Nuclear Plants.

Ceisteanna (15, 16)

Jack Wall

Ceist:

143 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the outcome of his meeting on 1 December 2003 with the British Minister for Energy, Mr. Stephen Timms, to discuss concerns regarding the Sellafield plant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2889/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

147 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps, including diplomatic and legal steps, which he has taken since June 2002 to bring about the closure of Sellafield; the number of occasions that issue has been raised with the British in diplomatic talks; the details of the response of the British when the matter was raised; if the Government intends to use the State's presidency of the EU to further that goal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2970/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 143 and 147 together.

Since June 2002, the Government has taken significant steps to bring about the closure of Sellafield, in accordance with our commitment in the agreed programme for Government. That policy objective has been advanced through separate legal actions, under the OSPAR Convention and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The OSPAR tribunal, in its award on 3 July 2003, established that Ireland has a right under the OSPAR Convention to access information on the marine environment, that the UK has an obligation to make such information available, and that Ireland has a right of redress under the convention to vindicate its rights to such information.

The provisional measures award and orders of the UNCLOS tribunal of 24 June 2003 and 14 November 2003 recommended that Ireland and the UK enter into dialogue to improve co-operation and consultation between the two Governments and report to the tribunal on specified dates. Complex discussions confidential to the tribunal and the parties pending outcomes are ongoing in line with the obligation on both parties to improve co-operation and co-ordination arrangements. While progress is being made, it is at a measured pace, and it is too early to speculate on the outcomes to the discussions. However, it is my intention to make public as appropriate any agreed improvements in those regards arising from that process.

Since June 2002, I have also represented the Government in various meetings with my ministerial colleagues in the UK. I represented Ireland at the third meeting of the British-Irish Council, environment sectoral group, on 16 January 2003, the agenda of which included the issue of radioactive waste from Sellafield. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, attended a further meeting of that group in October 2003.

On 7 January 2003 I wrote to Michael Meacher MP, then Minister for the Environment, outlining my concerns regarding the proposed decision by the UK Environment Agency on future discharges of technetium 99 from Sellafield. In response to pressure from the Government, the UK agreed a moratorium on discharges to conduct trials into a chemical process that, if successful, would increase the feasibility of storing that waste product in a safe form on land rather than discharging it into the Irish Sea. I understand that the results of those trials are expected shortly. I will continue to press for the complete cessation of those discharges into the Irish Sea, and I will consider the outcome of those trials in that context.

On 28 May 2003, I met the then UK Energy Minister, Brian Wilson MP, in Dublin to reiterate the range of Government concerns about Sellafield, including the continued discharge of technetium 99, the role of the proposed nuclear decommissioning authority, and the storage of radioactive waste at Sellafield.

On 24 July and 26 August 2003 I wrote to Mr. Wilson's successor, Mr. Stephen Timms MP, concerning media reports about the structural integrity of a waste storage facility at Sellafield. Mr. Timms responded that the UK regulations had been concerned about the longer-term integrity of the facility for several years and had instructed BNFL to carry out necessary structural surveys and engage in close monitoring of the building.

I have previously placed on the record of this House an exchange of correspondence with the Secretary of State for Trade and industry, Patricia Hewitt MP, about the inadequacy of security at Sellafield. Following media reports last August about the closure of THORP by 2010, I again wrote to Ms Hewitt to seek clarification on the matter. She confirmed the existing UK policy that any new reprocessing contracts for THORP would require British Government approval and would be subject to public consultation, during which the Irish Government could make its views known.

On 1 December 2003, together with the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, I met the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Ms Margaret Beckett MP, and Mr. Elliot Morley MP, Minister for the Environment, in London, while later the same day the Minister of State also met Ms Hewitt and Mr. Timms. We discussed the issues of access for the RPII to Sellafield, technetium 99 discharges and the structural integrity of storage buildings at Sellafield. The UK Ministers acknowledged the concerns expressed by Ireland on those issues, although they do not share them. However, both sides indicated a willingness to engage under the terms of the UNCLOS tribunal orders and at all levels in a constructive approach to those issues.

As well as contacts with ministerial colleagues, my officials and scientific experts from the RPII continue to meet their UK counterparts regularly, during which Ireland's concerns regarding operations at Sellafield are raised. Such contacts continue to be productive. Indeed, I believe that, largely as a result of Ireland's legal actions, there has been increasing recognition among relevant UK authorities of the serious concern of the Irish Government and people. However, there remains a significant difference of views regarding operations at Sellafield. The UK response to concerns raised by Ireland is that operations at Sellafield are safe and do not adversely impact on the environment. This Government holds significantly different views and has at every opportunity expressed those views directly to the UK Government and its relevant authorities at all levels. The Government will not hesitate to explore further options regarding Sellafield as they become available.

Regarding Ireland's EU Presidency, while it would be inappropriate to pursue a national agenda, there are currently two proposed directives, which together comprise proposals for a nuclear safety package, under discussion in the European Council's atomic questions working group. Those will, if adopted, provide an EU-wide set of standards regarding nuclear safety and waste management and disposal which will apply in all member states including the UK. The Irish Presidency will continue, through dialogue, to seek and develop consensus on the directives.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ceisteanna (17)

John Gormley

Ceist:

144 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the nature of the relationship between the national spatial strategy and the programme for decentralisation announced on budget day. [2963/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The national spatial strategy, or NSS, was published by Government in November 2002. The strategy is a 20-year planning framework designed to enable every part of the country to achieve its potential. The strategy aims to promote a dynamic urban and rural structure throughout Ireland through a set of interdependent spatial policies which focus on five main elements: a stronger, internationally competitive greater Dublin area; strategically placed gateways leading the delivery of a more spatially balanced Ireland; hubs, which link the capability of the gateways to wider areas; other towns capitalising on their local and regional roles; and diversified rural communities with enhanced access to employment opportunities. In adopting and publishing the strategy, the Government stated that it would take full account of the NSS in moving forward the progressive decentralisation of Government offices and agencies.

The decentralisation programme takes account of the NSS, but the Government also had to take account of a wide range of other factors in selecting suitable locations for the new decentralisation programme announced in the budget. Those other factors included the core business and nature of the relevant Department or agency, the location of their customer base, the location of existing decentralised offices, the desirability of clustering a Department's decentralised units within a region, the importance of respecting the scale and character of locations regarding their capacity to absorb the new jobs involved, the existence of good transport links and the general infrastructure capacity in the locations selected.

In addition to gateways and hubs, the NSS identified the need to strengthen the county town and large town structure and the need for a renewed emphasis on the potential of small towns, villages and rural areas. The strategy envisages that county towns and other medium-sized towns would continue to play important roles as "local capitals", developing their enterprise and service functions and continuing to provide opportunities for employment both in the towns themselves and in related smaller towns, villages and rural areas. The relocation of public service employment to many of those towns will help to underpin the important role which many of them must continue to play into the future.

The Government is strongly committed to the implementation of the national spatial strategy and has put a wide range of measures in place at national, regional and local levels aimed at achieving the strategy's objectives of more balanced regional development through a better spread of economic activity, population and employment growth.

Environmental Policy.

Ceisteanna (18)

Liam Twomey

Ceist:

145 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the plans he has to present a proposal to Government to make Ireland a dioxin-free country. [2951/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Dioxins arise mainly from incomplete combustion. Various studies have confirmed their ubiquitous nature, even in remote areas. Humans have contributed to the dioxin load in the environment since the first use of fire, and in practical terms it is impossible totally to eliminate dioxins. The real challenge is to reduce levels of emissions.

The most recent emissions data available are in the inventory of dioxin and furan emissions to air, land and water in Ireland for 2000 and 2010 prepared for the Environmental Protection Agency in December 2002. That report is a useful contribution to our information base on dioxins in the environment, especially as it identifies the relative significance of various emission sources for dioxins. Overall, it indicates that Ireland generates relatively low amounts of dioxin and is consistent with earlier EPA surveys of dioxin levels, showing they are uniformly low by international standards.

It is evident from the report that the biggest source of emissions is, and is expected to remain, uncontrolled combustion processes, in particular the home burning of domestic waste, house and vehicle fires, and Halloween bonfires. Together, those contribute nearly 80% of total emissions into the air. Nonetheless, the report anticipates that dioxin emissions into the air from all sources will fall by over 10% by 2010. It is noteworthy that the nine hazardous waste incinerators in operation in Ireland in 2000 were estimated to have contributed a fraction of 1% of national dioxin emissions into the air. Even projecting annual municipal waste incineration of 1 million tonnes by 2010, the report estimates that waste incineration would contribute less than 2% of dioxin emissions to air.

Ireland is a signatory of both the 1998 UNECE Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants, or POPs, and the 2001 UNEP Convention on POPs. Both agreements aim to reduce and, where feasible, ultimately eliminate releases and emissions of dioxins. Parties must develop an action plan containing appropriate strategies, including promoting the application of available, feasible and practical measures, the development of substitute materials, products and processes, and the application of best available techniques and best environmental practices to new and existing sources and of effective measures to control emissions from mobile sources. I am working towards ratification of both agreements and will bring proposals to Government in due course.

Waste Disposal.

Ceisteanna (19)

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

146 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when the judgement of the European Court of Justice is expected in the case being taken by the Commission against Ireland arising from this country's inadequate administrative response to illegal waste disposal activities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2879/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The European Commission has initiated legal proceedings against Ireland regarding alleged failures to comply with aspects of the Waste Framework Directive (75/442/EC). Following the submission of papers by both the Commission and the Irish authorities, including a request by Ireland for an oral hearing, it is now a matter for the European Court of Justice to decide on the timing of the case's progression. My Department has received no indication from the court in that regard.

Given that the case is before the European Court of Justice, I am not in a position to comment on the issues arising in the context of the proceedings. However, I can assure the Deputy that I have assigned the highest priority to addressing issues regarding the regulatory regime governing the waste sector and its effective enforcement. The establishment of a new office of environmental enforcement within the Environmental Protection Agency, additional funding for local authorities and stronger legislation are all practical expressions of my commitment to ensuring that we have a strong and well-enforced regulatory system governing the waste sector. I intend to continue to place major emphasis on ensuring further progress in this area in the months and years ahead.

Question No. 147 answered with QuestionNo. 143.

Housing Grants.

Ceisteanna (20)

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

148 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the details of the disabled persons' grant; if there are recent changes leading to a restriction on the availability of the grant; the person who decides on the extent of the disability leading to an entitlement to qualification for the grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2693/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Grants are available from local authorities towards making a dwelling more suitable for the accommodation of a member of the household who is either physically handicapped or suffering from severe mental handicap or mental illness. A grant of up to €20,320 or 90% of work is available in individual cases in respect of private dwellings, while the full cost of the work may be funded in the case of a local authority rented dwelling.

It is a matter for the authorities to decide on the level of funding to be provided for the scheme in their areas and to manage the operation of the scheme from within the allocations notified to them for this purpose by my Department. My Department recoups to local authorities two thirds of their expenditure on the payment of individual grants, and it is the responsibility of the authorities to fund their one third from their own resources from amounts provided for that purpose in their annual estimates of expenditure.

The framework for the operation of the scheme is laid down in statutory regulations and, as far as practicable, is designed to give an appropriate degree of flexibility to local authorities. My Department has not introduced any amendments to restrict the grant assistance available in individual cases. Decisions on eligibility for grant assistance, including those relating to the establishment of the type or level of disability involved, are a matter for decision by the local authority concerned.

A review of the scheme is being finalised in my Department at present, and on its completion I will be in a position to determine the changes, if any, required to the regulations governing the scheme to ensure that the funding available is directed at those persons in greatest need of such assistance.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Ceisteanna (21)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

149 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to increase the grant available for small group sewerage schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28335/03]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Group sewerage scheme grants of up to 75% of the approved cost, subject to a maximum grant of €2,031 per house, are available for the provision of common or shared waste water disposal systems.

The national rural water monitoring committee is overseeing the implementation of a pilot programme by local authorities to test a range of new, small-scale waste water collection and treatment systems. Twelve villages in six counties have been selected as locations for the pilot programme. Last year proposals were invited from suitably qualified contractors to design and build those village schemes and to operate and maintain the infrastructure over a 20 year period. Contractors have now been shortlisted, and construction is expected to commence later this year.

Subject to a satisfactory outcome to the pilot testing, the national rural water monitoring committee envisages a potential role for group sewerage schemes in the collection of domestic waste water from households outside the immediate catchment of such treatment systems. Confirmation of such a role for group sewerage schemes and any review of the associated grants must await the outcome of the pilot programme.

Waste Management.

Ceisteanna (22)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

150 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the extent to which he proposes to deal with the issue of waste management in the future, with a view to maximising recycling and eliminating landfills; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2946/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

An effective basis for addressing our waste management responsibilities has been put in place through the Changing Our Ways policy statement on waste management, the Preventing and Recycling Waste: Delivering Change policy statement, the waste management plans, largely prepared on a regional basis, adopted by the local authorities, and the comprehensive regulatory framework now in place regarding waste.

The Government's approach is based on the internationally recognised waste management hierarchy of prevention and minimisation, significantly increased levels of recycling, energy recovery and, finally, utilising landfill as the last resort for residual waste that cannot otherwise be recovered. The Government's priorities regarding waste management are now heavily focused on implementation. The main objectives are to ensure full and speedy delivery on the modernisation of waste infrastructure and services identified in local authority waste management plans, intensify waste prevention efforts through an ambitious and well-resourced national waste prevention programme, significantly expand recycling efforts, extend producer responsibility initiatives at industry level, ensure that the volumes of waste going to landfill are significantly reduced, and establish several new structures in support of waste management initiatives generally, and recycling in particular.

Progress towards meeting the targets set out in changing our ways has been reported by the EPA in the most recent national waste database report, which relates to the year 2001. In addition, my Department is carrying out a national overview of waste management plans. That overview will not take precedence over the current generation of waste management plans; rather it is designed to provide a composite national picture of the infrastructure and services which the plans provide for, to outline progress achieved and to address issues which have arisen in the implementation process to date. That exercise is at an advanced stage, and I expect that it will be concluded very shortly.

Playground Statistics.

Ceisteanna (23)

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

151 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of playgrounds there are in the State; and his proposals for increased provision. [2960/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Comprehensive statistics on the number of playgrounds in the State are not available in my Department.

However, under my recently announced initiative, Delivering Value for People: Service Indicators in Local Authorities, local authorities are required to report annually on their performance against 42 service indicators.

Two of those indicators relate to playgrounds, and those will enable comparisons to be made across local authorities on their performance in this area. Specifically, the indicators will show the number of children's playgrounds per 1,000 of population provided directly by the local authority and facilitated by it.

Local authorities will be required to report annually on their performance against the indicators by the end of the first quarter of the following year. Monitoring and verification of performance against the indicators will be carried out by an independent assessment panel, and an annual report on the performance of local authorities against the 42 indicators, incorporating the independent assessment, will be issued to my Department by the Local Government Management Services Board.

Question No. 152 withdrawn.

Housing Grants.

Ceisteanna (24)

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

153 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if it is his intention to increase the disabled persons' housing grant to cover 100% of the cost of approved building costs on the basis of need; the measures he intends to take to address the hardships caused by the fact that, due to underfunding of local authorities, applicants for the disabled persons' housing grant have to wait an inordinately long period of time before receiving their grant; when the review of the disabled persons' housing grant which was commenced by his Department in March 2003 will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2913/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

A review of the disabled persons' grant scheme is being finalised in my Department at present. On its completion, I will be in a position to determine the changes, if any, required to the regulations governing the scheme to ensure that the funding available is directed at those persons in greatest need of such assistance.

The administration of the disabled persons' grant scheme is a matter for individual local authorities. The framework for the operation of the scheme is laid down in statutory regulations and, as far as practicable, is designed to give an appropriate degree of flexibility to local authorities. It is a matter for the authorities to decide on the level of funding to be provided for the scheme in their areas from within the allocations notified to them for that purpose and to manage the operation of the scheme within those allocations. My Department recoups to local authorities two thirds of their expenditure on the payment of individual grants, and it is the responsibility of the authorities to fund their one third contribution from their own resources from amounts provided for that purpose in their annual estimates of expenditure.

The improvements which have been made in recent years to the amount of the disabled persons' grant and the level of recoupment available have resulted in a significant increase in levels of demand, with expenditure on the scheme increasing from €13 million for 2,455 grants in 1998 to €52.6 million for 5,932 grants in 2002. In line with that very significant increase in my Department's capital provision for the scheme, recoupment costs have also increased from €6.3 million for 2,512 grants in 1998 to almost €31.5 million for 5,070 grants in 2002. In that time the maximum grant has doubled from €10,158 to €20,320. Those very significant increases in the levels of funding provided are a clear indication of the Government's commitment to the disabled persons' grant scheme.

House Prices.

Ceisteanna (25, 26)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

154 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if the Government has begun to reassess its position regarding house prices in view of the fact that, contrary to Government statements, over the past 18 months house prices have continued to rise, and rose by 13.7% in 2003 alone; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2973/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

204 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the average cost of a new house in Dublin, a secondhand house in Dublin, a new house outside of Dublin and a secondhand house outside of Dublin in 1997 and in the latest year for which figures are available; the plans he has to ensure availability of affordable housing in view of the recent survey showing that house prices are continuing to rise; his estimate of the likely increase in house prices during 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2856/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 154 and 204 together.

The unprecedented demand for housing, fuelled mainly by rapid economic growth and demographic changes, has been the major driver of house price increases in recent years. The Government's strategy is to increase housing supply to meet demand and to improve affordability, particularly for first-time buyers, and in this way to seek to bring moderation to house price increases.

The measures introduced by this Government to boost supply, such as significant investment in infrastructure, removing planning constraints, and promoting the increased residential densities, are having an effect. House completions for the first nine months of 2003 are up 18.3% on 2002, and up 16.2% in Dublin and 11.1% in the greater Dublin area on the same period in 2002. Based on those positive trends, 2003 is set to be the ninth successive year of record housing output. Ireland is building at the fastest rate in Europe — close to 15 units per 1,000 population — which is an outstanding achievement.

House price increases and their impact on affordability are a matter of continuing concern. While the rate of house price increases is still problematic, that has moderated considerably since the late 1990s, when price increases peaked at 40% per annum in 1998. To address problems associated with increases in price levels, the Government has worked to ensure the continuing enhancement of supply. Information on average prices paid for new and secondhand properties both nationally and in selected areas is set out in my Department's housing statistics bulletin, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library.

At the same time, the Government is concerned to ensure that the broad spectrum of housing needs is met. Almost €3.8 billion was spent in the first three years of the national development plan on social and affordable housing measures, reflecting the strong commitment of the Government to meeting needs of low-income groups and those with social and special housing needs. The housing needs of over 12,000 households will be met in 2004, compared with almost 8,500 in 1998.

The Government is committed to continuing with measures to boost the supply of housing and ensuring that the demand for housing is met in a sustainable manner. We will continue to monitor and review housing developments and policies as necessary, including examining possible measures aimed at moderating land costs for housing and other essential public infrastructure.

EU Directives.

Ceisteanna (27, 28)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

155 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the legal actions and actions of instances being taken against his Department for failure to implement EU directives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2977/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

202 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of cases in which the European Commission has initiated legal action, or announced that it intends to take legal action, arising from the failure by this country to implement EU directives for which his Department has responsibility; the steps he is taking to ensure that all those directives are implemented in full; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2878/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 155 and 202 together.

There are seven cases in respect of which the European Commission has initiated legal action on grounds of non-implementation of EU directives in areas for which my Department has responsibility. Six of the cases relate to directives concerning dangerous substances in water, protection of water against pollution by nitrates from agriculture, assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, commonly known as environmental impact assessment, or EIA, the keeping of wild animals in zoos, end-of-life vehicles, and obligations under the law of the sea. The seventh case relates to several waste issues.

Legislation is in place in respect of all of the directives concerned, and the legal actions relate to issues regarding elements of transposition and implementation. The European Commission recently indicated its intention to withdraw the case regarding the zoos directive, and confirmation of that decision is awaited. Further legal action has been notified to Ireland on grounds related to reporting requirements under an EU regulation on ozone-depleting substances.

The European Commission announced on 22 July 2003 its intention to take legal action against Ireland regarding the proposed decision by the Government to introduce a €20 charge on citizens wishing to make submissions on development consent procedures. The Commission also announced on 29 January 2004 its intention to take legal action against Ireland for alleged failure to designate a sufficient number of special protection areas, or SPAs, for wild birds and adequately to protect sites that have or require SPA status. No communication has been received from the European Court of Justice in either matter.

Planning Issues.

Ceisteanna (29, 30)

Dan Neville

Ceist:

156 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he will issue new planning guidelines to local authorities. [2697/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

183 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he will issue new planning guidelines to local authorities. [2695/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 156 and 183 together.

Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 provides that the Minister may, at any time, issue guidelines to planning authorities regarding any of their functions under the Act and requires planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála to have regard to such guidelines in the performance of their functions.

Work is under way in my Department on the preparation of a number of guidelines which I propose to issue during 2004 either in draft or final format. These include guidelines offering advice in respect of architectural heritage; control of quarries; development control; development plans; retail planning; rural housing; strategic environmental assessment; strategic development zones; and wind farm development.

Local Authority Housing.

Ceisteanna (31)

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

157 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the figure for the resultant increase in the number of individuals seeking housing from local authorities, or seeking rent supplement from the State, by reason of the fact that the number of housing tenants in rent protected private rented sector dwelling has fallen dramatically in recent years, and that there are no longer any rights to a succession of tenancy at reduced rent for family members. [2967/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) Act 1982 confers a right to retain possession, as a tenant, of a formerly rent controlled dwelling for the lifetime of the person who was the tenant at the commencement of the Act — 26 July 1982 — and for the lifetime of their spouse. Where a member or successor members of the tenant's family succeed to the tenancy within 20 years of the commencement of the Act, the right to retain possession as a tenant under the 1982 Act continues to 25 July 2002, or until the tenancy has lasted a minimum of five years.

Once protection for successor tenants ceases under the 1982 Act, I am advised that they may be entitled to claim a long occupation lease of up to 35 years under Part II of the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act 1980. Where the landlord is unwilling to grant a long occupation lease or seeks an increase in rent, the tenant may apply to the Circuit Court to determine their entitlement and also to have the rent and other tenancy terms set. Where the rent has been set by the Circuit Court, the tenant-lessee is eligible for the means tested rent allowance scheme operated by the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

My Department has no information which would suggest that successor tenants who no longer enjoy the protection of the 1982 Act are applying for social housing or are seeking rent supplement from the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Ceisteanna (32)

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

158 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress made to date in implementing the targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions agreed by Ireland under the Kyoto agreement; when he expects that the targets will be met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2870/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I refer to the reply to Question No. 81 of 26 November 2003. Kyoto obligations arise in the commitment period 2008 to 2012. Ireland has embarked on a challenging programme to limit the growth in greenhouse gas emissions through vigorous implementation of the Government's national climate change strategy published in November 2000. This comprises a systematic programme towards meeting these obligations and sets a ten year policy framework for achieving the necessary emissions reductions. Its strategic approach across all sectors is in line with that adopted in other EU member states for ensuring that Kyoto obligations are met.

A progress report on the implementation of the strategy was published in May 2002. While this shows that measures in place or in progress are capable of achieving approximately 20% of the reductions required to meet our Kyoto Protocol obligations, continuing emissions increases due to volume growth in the economy mean that implementation of the strategy must be intensified.

I have, therefore, initiated a review of implementation of the strategy to ensure more focused and intensive implementation. This process will incorporate an update on greenhouse gas emissions projections, together with a particular emphasis on cross-cutting economic instruments to achieve Ireland's Kyoto target. Arrangements are well under way to ensure Irish industry and the power generation sector can participate in EU-wide emissions trading of CO2 from January 2005. Emissions trading will cover about one third of Irish national emissions in an EU market of approximately half of EU-25 greenhouse gas emissions. This programme will assist in ensuring these sectors meet their reduction obligations in the most economically efficient manner through access to the least-cost emissions reduction opportunities across the EU.

I intend to publish the outcome of the review of the national climate change strategy as soonas possible and I am satisfied that full implementation over the remainder of the decade, together with any additional measures which may be identified in the review, will ensure that our Kyoto obligations will be fully met.

Local Authority Housing.

Ceisteanna (33)

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

159 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the total number of persons on local authority housing lists at the latest date for which figures are available; the way in which this figure compares with the corresponding figure for the equivalent dates in each of the previous five years; the total number of local authority dwellings completed or acquired in 2002 and the anticipated number for 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2865/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I assume the question refers to the years 2003 and 2004. The results of the statutory assessment of local authority housing need, which was undertaken by local authorities in March 2002, indicated that a total of 48,413 households were in need of housing, compared with 39,176 households in March 1999. Detailed information on the results of the 2002 assessment was published in my Department's September 2002 quarterly edition of the housing statistics bulletin, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library.

The Sustaining Progress special initiative on housing and accommodation reflected the Government's expectation that the resources available in 2003 would allow for the needs of about 12,000 households to be met through the various social and affordable housing measures. A similar level is expected to be achieved again in 2004. This compares with almost 8,500 households in 1998.

My Department is receiving returns from local authorities in respect of the outturn for 2003. It is, however, estimated that there were 5,000 house completions-acquisitions in 2003. Pending the full receipt of returns from local authorities it is not possible, at this stage, to give a firm indication of the expected number of completions-acquisitions in 2004.

Development Levy.

Ceisteanna (34, 35, 36, 37)

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

160 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the plans he has to address infrastructural deficits in some counties which led to unacceptable high levies on housing and commercial developments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2949/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

167 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will reconsider his position in relation to development levies to be charged by local authorities in view of the negative impact they will have on the price of houses, new industrial and commercial developments as well as new agricultural developments. [2696/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

209 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on whether house owners should be liable for the development levies on extensions to their homes, especially when, in many such cases, extensions are required to care for an elderly relative or a person with a disability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2863/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

488 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the impact new proposals on development levies will have on the agricultural industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29234/03]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 160, 167, 209 and 488 together.

The development contribution system was significantly revised when the Oireachtas, with cross-party support, brought in a new, transparent system in the Planning and Development Act 2000. Under section 48 of the 2000 Act, planning authorities must draw up a development contribution scheme in respect of public infrastructure and facilities provided by, or on behalf of, the local authority that benefit development in the area. These schemes are intended to ensure that the long-standing practice of levying development contributions to fund local authority infrastructure is implemented in a more transparent and consistent way across the country than has been the case in the past. It is not proposed to make any further changes to this system at present.

It is not anticipated that the contributions levied will unduly affect the price of houses, new industrial and commercial development ornew agricultural developments. While the development contribution system has been reformed, local authorities have been levying contributions since the implementation of the 1963 Act and the new system continues that. In addition, by way of circular letter issued on 27 June 2003, planning authorities were advised that while it is expected that the planning authority should ensure that developers make an appropriate contribution towards the costs of public infrastructure and facilities, the local authority should take care to avoid development contributions that are excessively high.

It should be noted that where a domestic extension is under 40 sq. m., it is normally exempt from planning permission and development contributions will not apply. Where development does come within the planning system, the level of contributions charged and the types of development to which they will apply is ultimately a decision for the elected members of each planning authority.

The Government is committed to significantly increased levels of funding for infrastructure provided by local authorities with estimated expenditure on all infrastructure, including national roads, approaching €2.8 billion for 2004. Development contributions are not intended to substitute for Exchequer funding. Instead they are intended to pay the capital cost of local authority infrastructure and facilities for which funding may not be available from the Exchequer, for example, local road improvements, community facilities, playgrounds, traffic calming measures and park facilities.

Affordable Housing.

Ceisteanna (38, 39, 40)

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

161 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of houses to be made available as part of Sustaining Progress affordable housing in each of the local authorities in the greater Dublin area; the location of each of these developments; the number and type of housing units at each location; the proposed completion date; the projected cost of the units; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2699/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

194 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress which has been made to date to build the 10,000 houses promised as part of Sustaining Progress. [2847/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

199 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress made to date with regard to the details of the agreement reached with the trade unions and employer organisations regarding the building of 10,000 affordable houses; when the scheme will start; the time span within which the 10,000 houses will be built; the companies by which they will be built; if sites have been handed over for this purpose; the number of such houses started; the number expected to be started by the end of 2004; when he expects the first such houses to be available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2868/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 161, 194 and 199 together.

The affordable housing initiative was brought forward by the parties to the Sustaining Progress pay agreement, to meet the needs of persons priced out of the housing market. In response, the Government committed to an ambitious scale of delivery of affordable housing through this initiative and the provisions of Part V. Identifying potential sites for the initiative last July and December has been a critical step in ensuring early delivery of affordable housing for the initiative. Substantial progress has been made to date, including Part V, arrangements, all the sites so far identified have the potential to deliver 6,100 units. The fact that these sites are being released by both local authorities and a range of other State authorities indicates the broad commitment at Government level to facilitate the earliest delivery of housing at affordable prices.

Both local authority and State lands have been identified for the initiative in Dublin, Kildare and Meath. In July 2003, four sites were earmarked for the initiative: two OPW sites in Dublin in Jamestown Road and Infirmary Road, each with a potential housing yield of 300 and 100 units, respectively; and two Department of Defence sites — Magee Barracks in Kildare and Gormanston in Meath, each with a potential yield of an estimated 350 units.

In December 2003 both State and local authority lands in Dublin, Cork and Waterford were earmarked for the initiative. The relevant local authority lands in Dublin have a total potential yield of around 2,300 units. South Dublin County Council envisages a potential yield of 1,000 units on its own lands for the initiative, the main areas being Tallaght, 750 units in Kiltepper, Killinarden, Fortunestown and Lucan-Clondalkin, and 250 units in Balgaddy and Nangor. The 900 units identified by Dublin City Council for this initiative are in Cedarbrook phase II development, Cherry Orchard area, 500 units; Finglas Road-Tolka Valley area, 170 units, and 130 units on the Malahide Road. The three areas earmarked in Fingal County Council for 400 units are Blanchardstown, Balbriggan and Donabate. State owned lands at Harcourt Terrace, Portrane and St. Bricin's Hospital in Dublin are also being released for the initiative with potential housing yields of 30, 150 and 80 units, respectively.

The timescale for delivery and precise number of units to be delivered on each site will be determined in planning the projects and take account of factors such as site characteristics, servicing status, sustainable development, the appropriate housing mix and other facilities. Arrangements are now being put in place for the establishment and transfer of title of the relevant sites and implementation meetings have been held with all relevant local authorities and Departments to progress delivery on these sites.

There is a range of matters to be dealt with from identification of sites through to delivery. These are being expedited and I am confident that, with the shared resolve of the Government and the parties to the pay agreement, the challenge set in Sustaining Progress will be met and measurable progress will be achieved by the mid-term review this year.

As provided for in the agreement, the Government has been working with the parties to the pay agreement to develop all aspects of this initiative. This includes issues such as defining the eligibility criteria to apply to the target group, the appropriate models for delivery, financing arrangements and land acquisition. These meetings have been positive in advancing the difficult issues which must be addressed in the implementation phase.

In terms of the delivery model, under the terms of the agreement, this scheme cannot impact on the Exchequer or general Government finances. Therefore, the kind of subsidy which arises under existing affordable housing schemes will not be appropriate. The delivery model will therefore build on existing expertise in the affordable housing area and will be delivered through contracts with developers procured competitively by local authorities. These contracts will be to design, build and finance the construction of the units.

I welcome this ambitious initiative as another means of bringing more affordable housing on stream. Work on implementing this initiative is progressing as a priority and consultations are continuing with Departments, State agencies and local authorities to identify other lands suitable for the initiative and other housing purposes. This is firm evidence of the Government's determination to making measurable progress in the implementation of this initiative by the mid-term review of Sustaining Progress in the middle of this year. We will work to ensure that the output from all affordable housing schemes is maximised while ensuring the continuation of measures to maintain the overall supply of new houses.

Homeless Persons.

Ceisteanna (41)

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

162 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the changes he intends to implement in 2004 to ensure that an accurate count of those forced to sleep rough throughout the country is made in view of the concern regarding the accuracy of the figures in recent years; if the national anti-poverty strategy target of eliminating rough sleeping by the end of 2004 will be reached; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2912/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The assessment of homelessness is, in the first instance, a matter for local authorities. The homeless agency in conjunction with the voluntary sector is addressing the issue of putting in place a more effective system of establishing the incidence of rough sleeping. Last week, the agency and the voluntary bodies completed a street count of rough sleepers. This count commenced on 12 January and was completed on 29 January 2004. I understand the count comprised data collected with and-or from a range of statutory and voluntary service providers and it is intended that the findings will be collated and finalised in the coming weeks. I am confident that the implementation of the LINK data system being introduced by the statutory and voluntary homeless service providers in the Dublin area, together with the continued efforts of outreach workers will, ultimately, provide the basis for a more accurate counting system. Specific attention will also be paid to the issue of homelessness in the preparation for the triennial assessment of housing need to be undertaken in 2005.

One of the key targets in the national anti-poverty strategy is the provision of sufficient and appropriate emergency accommodation for rough sleepers by the end of 2004 in conjunction with the provision of appropriate outreach services to enable them to access the services available to them.

Significant progress has already been made in the provision of services for rough sleepers since the publication of Homelessness — an Integrated Strategy in May 2000. For example, initiatives which have come on stream in the Dublin area include the provision of 1,000 additional emergency beds of which 100 specifically target rough sleepers, additional outreach teams to make contact with people sleeping rough and assist them into accommodation, the Dublin City Council nightly bus service which takes people from the streets to available accommodation, a hostel for young drug users and a long-term supported housing project for street drinkers. Appropriate provisions are also being put in place in other local authority areas to cater specifically for persons sleeping rough and street drinkers. My Department recoups to local authorities 90% of the accommodation related costs of these facilities while the care-support costs are provided by the health boards.

The achievement of the NAPS target in regard to persons sleeping rough remains a Government objective and I hope that, by the end of 2004, sufficient accommodation will be available to avoid the need for rough sleeping.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Ceisteanna (42)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

163 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if it is the Government's intention to use this State's Presidency of the European Union to initiate a programme for the targeted reduction of emissions on an EU-wide basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2972/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I assume the question refers to targeted reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Kyoto Protocol, which the European Union and its member states ratified in May 2002, the EU has committed itself to reducing its combined emissions of a basket of six greenhouse gases by 8% below 1990 levels during the period 2008 to 2012. A subsequent burden sharing arrangement resulted in different emissions targets for each member state.

It is the responsibility of each member state to ensure that it complies with its overall emissions target, but it is recognised that action on an EU-wide basis is necessary in respect of policies and measures where progress can best be achieved in a common and co-ordinated way. In June 2001, the Commission published the European Climate Change Programme, ECCP, which has identified the most environmentally beneficial and cost-effective EU-level policies and measures to assist the EU meet its 8% target. The programme outlines a number of sector specific measures that have already been taken and many that are yet to be taken to assist particular sectors and, therefore, member states, to meet their targets. The Commission reports regularly on the implementation of the ECCP and a communication from it in the coming months is expected to outline plans for implementation of the next phase of the programme. The Irish Presidency will work closely with the Commission and our EU partners in this regard.

The emissions trading directive, which has already been agreed, will assist the larger CO2 emitters in EU industry and power generation sectors to contribute to overall emissions reductions in a flexible and cost effective manner. A draft directive linking the emissions trading scheme to the Kyoto Protocol's project mechanisms will provide further opportunities for companies to help meet their targets through investing in environmentally sound projects in developing countries or in economies in transition. The Irish Presidency is working to achieve a first reading agreement between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament on the linking directive. During our Presidency, we will also progress a draft regulation to control the use of certain fluorinated gases, which are more potent than CO2 in terms of climate change.

It remains a sole competence of the European Commission to propose further EU-wide legislative measures targeting reductions in particular sectors.

Electronic Voting.

Ceisteanna (43)

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

164 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if, in view of the importance of ensuring the integrity of the new electronic voting system which dictates that the machines and their operating software should be subject to the most rigorous and comprehensive testing regime and that political and other considerations would suggest a strong case for independent validation of such testing before the machines are brought into use at elections, he intends to commission such an independent validation system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2853/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

It is of paramount importance to ensure the integrity of the electronic voting system. For this reason, my Department has engaged extensively in the independent checking and validation of all aspects of the voting equipment and software. The testing regime includes certification of the voting machine by a German test institute and by two test institutes from the Netherlands. The system software has also been validated for robustness and accuracy by an Irish company and by a UK company specialising in the PR-STV count rules. My Department has also undertaken comprehensive testing of all aspects of the system.

Development Levy.

Ceisteanna (44)

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

165 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his Department made a submission to Wicklow County Council on the draft levy scheme, published by the Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2948/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

In accordance with the requirements of section 48 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, my Department was consulted by Wicklow County Council on its draft development contribution scheme. My Department forwarded comments on the draft scheme to Wicklow County Council on 6 January 2004. A copy of these will be forwarded to the Deputy.

Homeless Persons.

Ceisteanna (45)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

166 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the recent concerns expressed by such organisations as Focus Ireland and the Simon Community regarding the increasing number of homeless persons; the steps being taken to deal with this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2857/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I am aware of the concerns expressed by the voluntary bodies about this matter. The Government is committed to addressing the issue of homelessness on a sustained basis with the aim of eliminating the need for rough sleeping by the end of 2004 and of providing adequate emergency and move on accommodation and support services to enable homeless persons to achieve independent living as soon as possible within the resources available for the purpose. There has been substantial progress in achieving this aim since the publication of the Government's integrated and preventative strategies on homelessness. As part of the integrated strategy local authorities, together with health boards and other statutory and voluntary bodies, are required to draw up local action plans to tackle homelessness. Virtually all of these plans have now been adopted by local authorities and health boards and work is well under way on implementing the measures contained in them.

A wide range of additional accommodation, ranging from emergency accommodation to long-term sheltered accommodation, has been provided. This has enabled rough sleepers to access emergency accommodation and allowed homeless persons to move out of emergency accommodation and into accommodation more suitable to their needs. Increased levels of day care facilities as well as specific provisions to meet the needs of people with addiction problems or who are sleeping rough, as well as homeless offenders, have been put in place. Further facilities will be provided as part of the full implementation of the homeless action plans with particular emphasis on the provision of move on accommodation to minimise the long-term use of both emergency and bed and breakfast accommodation.

Substantial additional funding has been made available to support the implementation of the homeless strategies. Capital funding for the direct provision by local authorities of accommodation for homeless persons is being doubled from €25.4 million to €50.8 million over the period 2001 to 2005. Current funding for accommodation related homeless services by local authorities has increased substantially from €12.6 million in 2000 to €50 million in 2003. Funding continues to be made available to the voluntary sector for the provision of accommodation for homeless persons under the Department's capital assistance scheme.

With a view to ensuring that progress is made, the cross-Department team on homelessness continues to monitor the implementation of the homeless strategies and a review of the strategies will be initiated shortly.

Question No. 167 answered with QuestionNo. 160.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Ceisteanna (46)

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

168 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the investigation which has been held by his Department into the circumstances in which a company (details supplied) obtained access to a confidential paper on emissions trading commissioned by his Department; if the gardaí have been asked to investigate the incident; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2871/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Any possession by a company of a draft report, in preparation to inform Government decision-making on emissions trading, is unauthorised. This matter is under consideration in my Department and a decision as to any necessary action will be taken as soon as possible.

Planning Issues.

Ceisteanna (47)

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

169 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the correspondence his Department has had with Meath County Council over the proposal to build a hotel near Trim Castle; and the use to which a €2.5 million EU grant is to be put related to this project, in view of the fact that Dúchas had formulated an objection to the hotel application. [2974/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Under the Heritage (Transfer of Departmental Administration and Ministerial Functions) Order 2002, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is a statutory consultee on any proposed development which may have an impact on the natural or built heritage.

In accordance with the relevant planning regulations, Trim Town Council forwarded to my Department on 6 March 2003 a copy of a planning application for a hotel development in the vicinity of Trim Castle. My Department responded to Trim Town Council on 27 March 2003 stating,inter alia, that the scale of the proposed development could have a negative visual impact on the castle and suggested that further information should be sought by the planning authority prior to any decision on the application being made.

This further information was sought by the planning authority and submitted to my Department. My Department responded to this further information on 13 August 2003 reiterating its view that the development should not be permitted to impact negatively or detract from the visual appreciation of Trim Castle and that the proposal should be further scaled back.

On 27 August, Trim Town Council granted planning permission for the development subject to a number of conditions, including a reduced size for the development with fewer rooms and revised elevations. Conditions were also attached requiring the developers to undertake archaeological monitoring of all sub-surface works carried out within the development site. In addition, the developers were required to submit revised layouts setting the building back from where it was originally proposed.

There was no further correspondence between my Department and Trim Town Council regarding the proposed hotel. My Department has no role in the matter of grants for the hotel development.

Local Authority Funding.

Ceisteanna (48)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

170 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if consultants have been appointed to undertake the promised independent review of local government funding; the consultants appointed; the value of the contract awarded; the terms of reference of the review; when it is expected to be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2876/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I intend to appoint consultants shortly to carry out this review and the value of the contract will then be determined on the basis of the relevant tender. The terms of reference of the review are set out in the request for proposals document which has been placed in the Oireachtas Library. I anticipate that the review will take nine to 12 months to complete.

Proposed Legislation.

Ceisteanna (49)

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

171 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the main provisions of the proposed National Infrastructure Bill; if the heads of the Bill have yet been brought before Government and approved; when the Bill is likely to be published and brought before Dáil Éireann; if it is intended that incinerators will fall within the remit of the national infrastructure board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2860/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I intend to bring draft legislative proposals to Government in the coming weeks to streamline the consent process for major infrastructure projects. I will be seeking priority for the drafting of the legislation, once approved by the Government, to ensure the Bill is published at the earliest possible opportunity this year.

In advance of the Government considering these proposals, it would be inappropriate to elaborate on their details, including details on the types of national infrastructure that might be included in the proposed legislation. In general terms however, it is intended to reduce the time required for obtaining development consent for necessary major public projects and to co-ordinate and streamline the different procedures now involved, while respecting the requirements of environment and heritage protection and the need for adequate public consultation.

Nuclear Safety.

Ceisteanna (50)

John Bruton

Ceist:

172 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the reports (details supplied) that the Governments of Britain, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Belgium are seeking to block or dilute EU draft directives on nuclear waste and nuclear safety; if he will take the matter up bilaterally with the Governments in question; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30237/03]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The Commission has proposed two draft directives setting out the basic obligations and general principles on the safety of nuclear installations, and on the management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste, which together comprise proposals for a nuclear safety package. Discussions on the directives, which began last year, are continuing in the European Council's atomic questions working group. The Irish Presidency will continue, through dialogue, to seek and develop consensus on the draft directives. There are, however, diverse views among member states and it would be inappropriate to comment on the negotiating positions of any particular member state in this regard.

To find compromise on the difficult issues addressed in the draft directives, flexibility will be needed to accommodate the different views of member states. The Presidency will be guided by the discussions at working group level in seeking to find an acceptable compromise on, and satisfactory outcome for, the Commission proposals.

Planning Issues.

Ceisteanna (51)

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

173 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has made a submission on the draft regional guidelines for the Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2979/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Draft regional planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area were published jointly by the Dublin and mid-east regional authorities on 19 December 2003. The draft guidelines are on public display until 5 March 2004. In accordance with the requirements of the Planning and Development Act 2000, a copy of the draft guidelines has been formally submitted to my Department. The draft guidelines are being examined with a view to considering whether a formal submission from the Department with regard to the draft guidelines would be appropriate.

Housing Grants.

Ceisteanna (52)

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

174 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the total number of persons awaiting payment of the first-time buyer's grant at the latest date for which figures are available; the reason for the long delay in making these payments; the steps being taken to ensure that all such grants are paid without further delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2861/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

There are 2,419 applications for payment of the first-time purchaser new house grant being processed in my Department. Every effort is made to ensure that no undue delays arise in the processing of applications, with the service of five inspectors who had retired being retained to undertake inspections and inspectors being deployed between areas in response to fluctuating workloads.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ceisteanna (53)

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

175 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if, in regard to proposals for decentralisation, any survey has been undertaken to establish the number of persons employed in his Department and in boards or agencies operating under the aegis of his Department who are willing to move to the new locations announced by the Minister for Finance in his budget speech; the results of any such survey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2854/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

My Department is co-operating actively with the decentralisation implementation committee and the Department of Finance with regard to the decentralisation programme announced in the budget for 2004. This envisages the decentralisation of all Dublin based functions of my Department, with the exception of Met Éireann and some local based services, to Wexford which will serve as headquarters, Waterford, New Ross and Kilkenny. Some 660 Dublin based staff are involved in discharging these functions. The National Building Agency and the Local Government Computer Services Board will also be involved in the decentralisation programme.

My Department considers that a survey of its staff, and that of other Departments and agencies, to determine interest in transferring to decentralised locations will most valuably be undertaken when greater clarification on detailed arrangements is available following,inter alia, the report of the implementation committee. My Department has already set up an internal implementation team for decentralisation which will report regularly to me and my Department's management advisory committee. I intend that there will be full and timely communication with staff of the Department on the progress of the decentralisation programme, through the Department's partnership committee and other channels. My Department is also committed to developing innovative approaches to information management, communications and logistics to maintain and improve the quality of service to be delivered under decentralised arrangements and to minimise disruption.

Benchmarking Awards.

Ceisteanna (54)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

176 Ms Burton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress made to date in regard to the implementation of the Civil Service action plan drawn up to meet the requirements of the benchmarking process within his Department and the public service generally; if the Civil Service performance verification group has decided that the level of progress warrants the payment of the general round and the benchmarking award on 1 January 2004; if payments will be withheld in any sector due to failure to make adequate progress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30090/03]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

On 24 October 2003, in accordance with the requirements of the Civil Service performance verification group, CSPVG, my Department submitted a progress report on the commitments set out in its action plan under Sustaining Progress. Supplementary material sought by the group was submitted on 25 November 2003. Following assessment of the progress reported by my Department, the CSPVG decided that payment of the pay increases from 1 January 2004 was warranted for all eligible staff. The CSPVG noted that excellent progress has been achieved by my Department on the commitments identified in our action plan. I understand that copies of the CSPVG report, together with copies of progress reports for all Departments and offices, are being made available on the Department of Finance website.

The assessment of verified progress for the local government sector and those agencies for whom we have pay responsibilities is the responsibility of the Secretary General of my Department. A performance verification process was put in place for the following agencies: An Bord Pleanála; An Comhairle Leabharlanna; the Dublin Docklands Development Authority; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Heritage Council; the Housing Finance Agency; the Irish Water Safety Association; the Local Government Computer Services Board; the Local Government Management Services Board; the National Building Agency; and the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. Having assessed the progress achieved by the agencies, the Secretary General of my Department decided that the pay increases with effect from 1 January 2004 were warranted for all eligible staff in those agencies.

Having considered the report of the local government performance verification group, the sectoral report, and the individual local authority reports and associated documentation, the Secretary General decided that, with the exception referred to in the following paragraph, the progress achieved by local authorities warrants payment of the second phase of the benchmarking increases and the 3% general round increase to each eligible grade of staff with effect from 1 January 2004.

Some general operatives in Dublin City Council's cleansing department were involved in industrial action, involving a work stoppage, on 6 November 2003. This issue was the subject of a joint referral to the Labour Court under paragraph 19.9 of Sustaining Progress and a hearing took place on 12 December 2003. The Secretary General deferred a decision regarding the general operatives who were involved in the industrial action pending the outcome of this process. The Labour Court has now considered the matter and issued its recommendations. Under the Labour Court recommendations, Dublin City Council and SIPTU must agree certain issues before the matter is resolved. At that stage, a further report will be submitted to the Secretary General by the city manager.

There are separate parallel benchmarking processes for local authority craftworkers and for general operatives outside Dublin. The parallel benchmarking exercise for craftworkers has now been completed and the verification of progress will be completed by 31 March 2004. The parallel benchmarking exercise for general operatives has not yet been completed.

Nuclear Plants.

Ceisteanna (55)

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

177 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position regarding Ireland's international legal case in connection with the Sellafield nuclear plant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2887/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I refer to the reply to Question No. 100 of 26 November 2003. A further report was made to the tribunal on 28 November 2003. The position is otherwise unchanged.

Affordable Housing.

Ceisteanna (56)

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

178 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the figure for the amount of housing completions, planning permissions granted, and financial contributions paid under Part V of the Planning and Development Acts 2000 and 2002; and if he has satisfied himself with the implementation of the regulations regarding the financial contributions paid at arbitration to local authorities by developers. [2968/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The most recent information on the number of housing units acquired under Part V for each local authority is published in my Department's September quarter 2003 Housing Statistics Bulletin, a copy of which is available in the Oireachtas Library. Information supplied by local authorities in respect of the first nine months of 2003 indicates that three authorities received payments in lieu totalling €277,833, and two authorities received a total of €129,798 under the withering levy. The latest information available to the Department indicates that 261 planning applications were made to local authorities in 2002 that were subject to Part V of the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2002.

The Acts provide that where agreement cannot be reached between the planning authority and the applicant seeking planning permission within an eight week period following the granting of planning permission regarding the number and price of houses or sites, a financial contribution due to the authority in lieu of the transfer of land on site or compensation to be paid by the authority where ownership of land is transferred, the matter may be referred to a property arbitrator for determination. My Department has not been made aware of any difficulties being experienced with these provisions.

Local Government Reform.

Ceisteanna (57)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

179 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when the process of reforming local Government will commence; if it is planned to initiate a public consultation on the reform of local Government with the aim of creating a democratic, empowered, accountable, relevant and properly funded system of local Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2978/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Recent years have seen a major local government modernisation programme with: constitutional recognition and guaranteed local elections; record levels of funding; strengthened political and management structures; an updated legal framework along with legislation last year to end the dual mandate; and an efficiency agenda focused on improved corporate planning, IT, human resources and customer service. As part of this ongoing programme, new financial management systems, facilitating better financial management and planning, have been successfully rolled out to local authorities.

In addition, I have recently announced a new initiative to improve service standards with an extended range of performance indicators and independent verification. I will shortly commission a major independent study to identify future funding requirements and options for local government and I envisage that public consultation will form one element of this study.

The continued development of the county and city development board system is already providing a wider role for local government. Through these development boards local authorities have a central role in bringing together at local level the various public agencies, social partners and local development bodies and in developing, overseeing and monitoring an integrated strategy for the economic, social and cultural development of their areas. Further measures to be announced shortly will reinforce the boards in fulfilling their role.

It is my aim, over the lifetime of the Government, to build on progress to date and to carry forward a significant change agenda for local government, including a wider role, secure funding, improved effectiveness, efficiency and performance and proper democratic input.

Homeless Persons.

Ceisteanna (58)

Joe Costello

Ceist:

180 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the call made by the Depaul Trust for the appointment of an ombudsman for the homeless; his views on the call; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2858/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

While I am aware that the Depaul Trust has suggested the establishment of an ombudsman to deal with the issue of homelessness there are no proposals for such an appointment. The issue of homelessness is already being dealt with at a number of levels under the overall aegis of my Department. The Government's serious commitment to tackling the issue has been displayed in a number of ways in recent years. These include increased funding for the provision of accommodation related services from €12.5 million in 1999 to €50 million last year, the publication and implementation of the integrated and preventative homeless strategies, the establishment of homeless fora at local authority level, and the drafting of the homeless action plans.

The horizontal issues affecting homelessness, identified in the homeless strategies, are being pursued through the cross-Department team on homelessness. It is also open to persons wishing to do so to raise appropriate issues relating to homelessness with the Ombudsman.

Waste Management.

Ceisteanna (59)

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

181 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the scientific basis for his recently expressed view that incinerators were less harmful to the public than exhaust fumes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2882/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The Inventory of Dioxin and Furan Emissions to Air, Land and Water in Ireland for 2000 and 2010, published by the EPA in December 2002, provides a useful indication of the relative significance of various emission sources for dioxins. As regards the nine hazardous waste incinerators in operation in the year 2000, the report estimated these to have contributed a fraction of 1% of national dioxin emissions to air — tables 1 and 4.2 of the report refer. By comparison, dioxin emissions from the transport sector were estimated to be more than 140 times higher. Even assuming that 1 million tonnes of municipal waste might be managed by way of incineration in 2010, the report projects that dioxin emissions from waste incineration would account for less than 2% of total dioxin emissions to air at that time, and less than half of the emissions attributable to the transport sector.

EU Directives.

Ceisteanna (60)

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

182 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason the Government has sought a derogation from the terms of the EU nitrates directive, particularly in view of the compelling evidence that nitrates are contributing substantially to the pollution of drinking water; the response he has received to the request; when he expects the directive to come into operation; the reason the request for the derogation was not reported to Dáil Éireann under the terms of the European Union (Scrutiny) Act 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2874/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The nitrates directive, 91/676/EEC, aims to protect water quality against pollution from agricultural sources, with a primary emphasis on better management of livestock manure and other fertilisers. The directive came into effect in January 1992. The nitrates directive has been implemented in Ireland by way of extensive monitoring of nitrate levels in waters, the assessment of the trophic status of waters, the development and dissemination in 1996 of a code of good agricultural practice to protect waters from pollution by nitrates and a range of other measures which operate to protect water quality from pollution by agricultural sources.

These other measures include the provision of funding under schemes administered by the Department of Agriculture and Food, such as the control of farmyard pollution scheme, the rural environment protection scheme, and the farm waste management scheme, to support expenditure by farmers on measures for pollution control and environmental protection. They also include by-laws made by local authorities under the Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts, a wide range of implementation and enforcement actions taken by local authorities under those Acts, the progressive extension of the integrated pollution control licensing system operated by the EPA to apply to a wider range of intensive agricultural activities, and the introduction of requirements for compliance with good farming practice in the context of agri-assistance schemes administered by the Department of Agriculture and Food.

Extensive discussions with the main farming organisations and other interests have taken place since December 2001 as to the further implementation of the nitrates directive. In February 2002, my Department issued an information paper on good agricultural practice and protection of the environment, which set out the background issues and the preferred approach of applying an action programme to all areas rather than to designated vulnerable zones. The paper, a copy of which is in the Oireachtas Library, was prepared in consultation with the Department of Agriculture and Food and reflects its views. Consistent with the approach set out in the paper, I made the European Communities (Protection of Waters Against Pollution from Agricultural Sources) Regulations 2003 which identified the whole territory of Ireland as the area to which an action programme will be developed and applied for the purposes of the nitrates directive.

A draft action programme for further implementation of the directive, which was prepared by my Department in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and Food and in consultation with Teagasc, was presented at a consultation seminar on 19 December 2003 to representatives of the main farming organisations and other stakeholders by officials from both Departments. A copy of the document has been lodged in the Oireachtas Library. A period of eight weeks is being provided for stakeholders to submit in writing their comments on the consultation document. Following the consultation process it is proposed that the action programme will be implemented on a phased basis commencing on 1 July 2004 and will be operational for a period of four years. Further consultation will take place early in 2004 on draft regulations which will be made as part of the action programme.

The consultation document provides for the making of an application to the European Commission for appropriate derogations from the limits on land application of livestock manure specified in the directive. No such application has yet been made and none of the actions taken, or proposed to be taken, by Ireland in implementation of the directive, constitute a "measure" as defined in the European Union (Scrutiny) Act 2002.

The most recent comprehensive data published on the quality of drinking water are contained in the EPA report, the Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland for the year 2001. This report, which is available in the Oireachtas Library, indicates a compliance rate of 99.1% with regard to all drinking water samples, public and private, taken and analysed with regard to the prescribed standards for nitrates. I understand the publication by the EPA of its report for 2002 is imminent.

Question No. 183 answered with QuestionNo. 156.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Ceisteanna (61)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

184 Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the proposals he has to encourage the use of more eco-friendly cement in building work here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2872/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The national climate change strategy identifies process substitution as one action to control greenhouse gas emissions and refers to the potential of environmentally friendly cement substitutes as part of a range of measures designed to enable Ireland to reach its Kyoto target. My Department is examining options for increasing the use of environmentally friendly cement substitutes in the construction sector. Following consideration of the issues arising specific proposals will be developed which will then be subject to consultation with the construction industry and other interested parties.

Homeless Persons.

Ceisteanna (62)

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

185 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if it is the Government's intention to place homeless strategies on a statutory basis; if not, the reasons for his decision not to do so; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2971/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The Government's integrated and preventative homeless strategies are designed to provide a practical and flexible framework for the planning and delivery of services and support for homeless persons. It does not, therefore, seem useful or appropriate to give them statutory status at this stage. The implementation of the homeless strategies is carried out at local level through the homeless action plans drawn up by local authorities under the aegis of the local homeless fora. The strategies and their accompanying homeless action plans will be considered in the process of the evaluation of the homeless strategies and action plans which will be initiated shortly.

Affordable Housing.

Ceisteanna (63)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

186 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the way he proposes to meet the housing needs of the 60,000 families on the various local authority waiting lists and a similar number of people who will never be in a position to obtain a home of their own due to the inadequacy of their salaries to fund mortgages in line with current house prices; the proposals he has to extend and improve the loans available through local authorities with a view to addressing this very serious issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2947/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The Government has been responding actively to the increased level of social housing need by significantly expanding social and affordable housing output. The strong commitment of the Government to meeting the housing needs of low income groups and those with social and special housing needs is reflected in the total housing provision, Exchequer and non-Exchequer, of €1.885 billion in 2004, which represents an increase of 5.5% on the 2003 provision. The funding available in 2004 will allow for the housing needs of more than 12,000 households to be met in 2004 compared with almost 8,500 in 1998.

We are delivering the highest level of local authority completions for 16 years. In 2002, local authorities built or acquired 5,074 houses. In the first nine months of 2003, more than 3,270 local authority houses were completed or acquired. The Government is fully supportive of the voluntary and co-operative housing sector which continues to play an increasingly significant role in the provision of social housing. Output of 1,360 units in 2002 was the highest level ever recorded for the sector. In the first nine months of 2003, 1,113 units of accommodation were completed.

Activity is also increasing significantly under the affordable housing and shared ownership schemes, with more than 7,200 households having benefited under both schemes since January 2000. The provisions under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, will also assist in the delivery of social and affordable housing and the affordable housing initiative included in the national partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress, is being progressed as a priority. This initiative, combined with Part V arrangements, will build on the progress made in delivering existing affordable housing schemes to boost the supply of affordable housing over the coming years.

The current level of public investment in housing is significant. The need to ensure we are making optimal use of available resources in meeting housing needs is reflected in Sustaining Progress, which provides for a review of the effectiveness of programmes designed to assist low income groups, including those with social housing and special housing needs.

It is a matter for each local authority to administer house purchase loans in its area, having regard, as appropriate, to the housing needs and circumstances of the area. My Department is keeping the terms of the income and loan limits under review, taking into account the movement in house prices, the effectiveness of various schemes in meeting the needs of the relevant target group and the availability of mortgage finance in the private sector.

Pollution Control.

Ceisteanna (64)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

187 Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has satisfied himself that breaches of conditions imposed on companies on integrated pollution control licences are sufficiently strong; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2873/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I am satisfied that the penalties for breaches of the terms of integrated pollution prevention and control licences issued by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 are set at an appropriate level. These penalties were increased significantly by section 10 of the Protection of the Environment Act 2003, which was brought into operation with effect from 22 October 2003.

Road Network.

Ceisteanna (65)

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

188 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the capital and current expenditure on all roads by the State for 2003 and proposed for 2004. [2969/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The total amount of funding, both capital and current, provided by my Department for the non-national roads programme in 2003, was €434 million.

I recently announced non-national road grant allocations of almost €477 million for 2004. This is more than double the 1997 State expenditure on non-national roads and represents an increase of almost 10% on last year's initial grant allocation. Expenditure on national roads is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Transport.

Radon Gas Levels.

Ceisteanna (66)

Jack Wall

Ceist:

189 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to concerns expressed by the trade union movement regarding the possible threat to workers posed by exposure to radon gas in the workplace; if he will consider the introduction of regulations requiring mandatory testing of workplaces for radon gas in areas of high risk; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2890/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I am aware of concerns regarding the possible threat to workers posed by exposure to radon gas in the workplace.

Regulations relating to the exposure of workers in Ireland to radon gas in the workplace are set out in the Radiological Protection Act 1991 (Ionising Radiation) Order 2000. This requires employers to measure workplace radon levels if so directed by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII. It implements in Ireland the 1996 EU basic safety standards directive laying down standards for the protection of workers and the general public from exposure to ionising radiation. The RPII is responsible for the enforcement of the order in Ireland.

In addition, the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 requires employers to identify the hazards at their workplace, assess the risk to health and safety from these hazards, and put in place measures to eliminate or reduce the risk. Where radon gas is identified as a hazard in the workplace, the employer has a duty, as with any other hazard, to assess the risk and eliminate or reduce that risk. There is a general duty on employers in high radon areas to include radon in their risk assessment. This means that to comply with health and safety legislation, radon measurements should be carried out in indoor workplaces in these areas. These regulations and obligations are considered sufficient at this time and the focus is on information provision and direction, and encouraging key players towards fulfilling their obligations.

In recent months the RPII has undertaken several initiatives to heighten awareness of the radon issue in Ireland. In October 2003 the RPII held the second in a series of three national radon fora in Galway to raise awareness of radon as a health risk. In November 2003 a media campaign on radon in the workplace was launched in ten high radon counties. Advertisements were placed in 13 local newspapers in counties Carlow, Clare, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, Mayo, Sligo, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow. Both the RPII and my Department will continue to use appropriate opportunities to raise public awareness of radon.

Planning Issues.

Ceisteanna (67)

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

190 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position regarding the threat by the European Commission to take legal action arising from the decision of the Government to introduce a €20 charge for making a submission on a planning application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2864/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

On 23 January 2003, the European Commission issued Ireland with a Reasoned Opinion to the effect that the €20 fee for the making of a submission on a planning application which requires environmental impact assessment is contrary to the public participation provisions of Directive 85/337/EEC on Environmental Impact Assessment, EIA. A reply, responding to each of the points raised in the Reasoned Opinion, issued to the European Commission on 16 May 2003 stating our contention that the imposition of a €20 participation fee is not in conflict with the provisions of the directive.

On 22 July 2003, the European Commission issued a press release in which it stated its intention to refer the case to the European Court of Justice. No official communication has been received from the Commission to date. I have no proposal to amend the relevant regulations which reflect an approach recently endorsed by the Oireachtas in the context of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

Political Lobbying.

Ceisteanna (68)

Liz McManus

Ceist:

191 Ms McManus asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he is planning to introduce legislation to control or regulate political lobbying; when the promised code of conduct for staff and members of local authorities will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2867/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Separate draft national codes of conduct for councillors and staff of local authorities dealing with conduct and standards of integrity have been produced and views on them have been sought from the local government associations, staff interests, local authority managers, the Department of Finance and the Standards in Public Office Commission. Following consideration of these views I intend to have these codes in place by mid-year.

As a first step with regard to lobbyists, my Department had asked the Institute of Public Administration to undertake preliminary research on the position regarding lobbyists in other countries with particular emphasis on regulatory aspects and this report is expected within the next few weeks. The issue of regulating lobbyists, and the question of possible legislation is a complex one and will be further considered when the Institute's report is received and taking account of other current legislative proposals and initiatives in this area.

End-of-Life Vehicles.

Ceisteanna (69)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

192 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position with regard to the promised regulations concerning end-of-life vehicles; when the regulations will come into operation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2885/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 924 and 959 of 27 January 2004.

Local Authority Housing.

Ceisteanna (70)

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

193 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the most recent figures for rent arrears in each local authority area. [2848/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Local authorities are responsible under the Housing Acts for the management and maintenance of their housing stock including rent collection, which is an integral part of their housing management function. My Department compiles, on an annual basis in arrears, statistical information in relation to rental income and the latest information available relating to 2002 was set out in the reply to Question No. 496 of 11 November 2003. Compilation of data for 2003 is being pursued with local authorities.

Question No. 194 answered with QuestionNo. 161.

Heritage Liaison Group.

Ceisteanna (71)

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

195 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if the promised high-level heritage liaison group has been established; the details of its membership and terms of reference; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2875/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I intend that this group will be established very shortly, following on the recent transfer of certain built heritage functions, together with related staff, from my Department to the Office of Public Works.

The terms of reference of the group, whose proceedings will relate to national monuments and historic properties in State care, are to monitor progress on the implementation of my Department's capital programme at such properties which is to be undertaken in future by the OPW and resolve in a policy context any issues that arise in relation to that capital programme or in relation to the day-to-day management of any one of the entire suite of such properties whose management is now the responsibility of the Office of Public Works.

Traveller Accommodation.

Ceisteanna (72)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

196 Ms Burton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress made with regard to the Traveller accommodation programme; the reason he has not convened a meeting of Traveller accommodation committees on the local authorities in the greater Dublin area as was done by his predecessor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2855/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

My Department's responsibility in relation to Traveller accommodation is to ensure that there is an adequate legislative and financial framework in place within which local authorities, voluntary bodies and Travellers may provide or be assisted in the provision of accommodation for Travellers.

The framework for the provision of Traveller accommodation is set out in primary legislation, the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998. Under this Act, each county and city council, borough council, and the town councils of Bray and Dundalk, were required to prepare, adopt, and take any reasonable steps necessary to implement five year Traveller accommodation programmes covering the period 2000 to 2004. All relevant local authorities adopted such programmes and are in the process of implementing them.

In the first three years of the accommodation programmes, 2000 to 2002, a total of 999 units of accommodation were provided or brought back into service through refurbishment. This consists of 323 new units of Traveller-specific accommodation, 239 units of refurbished accommodation, 422 standard houses which were allocated to Traveller families and 15 single instance houses which were purchased for Traveller families in that period. Traveller-specific accommodation includes group houses and halting-site bays (permanent, transient and emergency/temporary bays).

Traveller-specific accommodation is funded under my Department's Traveller accommodation capital programme and in the years 2000 to 2002 a total of €65.46 million was spent on such accommodation. In 2003 an additional €28.95 million was spent on such accommodation and the funding of Traveller-specific accommodation will continue to be made available. This funding is in addition to expenditure on the provision of standard local authority houses provided under my Department's local authority housing programme which are allocated to Traveller families.

The meeting referred to in the question was requested, in August 2003, by the mayor of South Dublin County Council when she proposed that representatives of the seven local authorities in the Dublin region — Dublin City Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal, Kildare, Meath, South Dublin, and Wicklow county councils — be invited by me to discuss the provision of transient sites for Travellers in the greater Dublin area.

In November 2001, my Department requested all local authorities, including those in the Dublin region, to consult and liaise with adjoining authorities with a view to achieving a co-ordinated approach to the provision of transient sites. This approach was recommended so that the delivery of units of transient accommodation would begin to flow from each authority in a region within the same timeframe thereby helping to avoid an influx of Traveller families into one authority in an area on delivery of its site.

In January 2002, Fingal County Council organised a seminar involving the seven local authorities in the greater Dublin region as well as Traveller representatives to consider the approach to the provision of transient sites in the greater Dublin area.

The former Minister with responsibility for housing and urban renewal twice, in November 2001 and February 2002, met representatives — elected and official — of these authorities with a view to achieving progress on a co-ordinated approach to the provision of transient sites in the area. No concrete proposals emerged from local authorities from any of these initiatives and there was no indication that progress was likely following the initiatives.

In responding to the request for the holding of another meeting involving the authorities concerned, I considered that, in the light of the experience in relation to the two meetings which were held on this issue where no concrete proposals resulted, my involvement in a further meeting at this stage would not be likely to advance the position on the ground and that the matter should be pursued by the authorities themselves in the first instance. In this context, I consider that any proposal for co-ordinated action on transient sites within the region is a matter for the authorities themselves to initiate in line with the Department's advice of November 2001.

Officials of my Department maintain close contacts with local authority officials on the implementation of all elements of their accommodation programmes, including transient sites. These contacts will continue and the necessary assistance and support will continue to be provided to local authorities in bringing forward proposals in relation to transient sites and other categories of Traveller accommodation.

I will continue to support fully the provision of facilities for transient Traveller families, as well as the provision of permanent accommodation for families in need of such accommodation, in accordance with Traveller accommodation programmes adopted by local authorities throughout the country. It is, however, a matter for the authorities themselves to provide the required accommodation within their respective areas of responsibility.

Question No. 197 answered with QuestionNo. 142.

Register of Electors.

Ceisteanna (73)

Liz McManus

Ceist:

198 Ms McManus asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps his Department is taking to promote awareness among non-nationals of their right to be included in the electoral register and to vote in the local elections and, in respect of EU citizens, the right to vote in European elections; if advertising or promotional campaigns are planned by his Department; the reason measures are being taken to contact directly those who have been identified as potential EU voters, but not other categories of voters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2866/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I refer to the reply to Question No. 66 of 26 November 2003.

Question No. 199 answered with QuestionNo. 161.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Ceisteanna (74)

Simon Coveney

Ceist:

200 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the process under which Ireland will decide the way in which to allocate carbon emissions capacity for companies that will be affected by the EU emissions trading proposals for 2004. [31348/03]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I refer to the reply to Question No. 344 of 3 July 2003. To implement the emissions trading scheme, the Government will determine the total quantity of allowances to be allocated for each phase and the EPA will determine the allocation for individual companies.

The Government has engaged consultants to advise it on the most economically efficient apportionment of the national target between those inside and outside trading for the period 2008 to 2012, and derived from this, the quantity to be allocated to the trading system in the pilot phase, 2005 to 2007. The allocation for this period must take account of the progressive reductions of emissions required towards achievement of the national Kyoto obligation while also recognising the "learning by doing" nature of the pilot phase.

The EPA has been designated as the national allocation authority to design and implement, by 31 March 2004, a national allocation plan, in accordance with the requirements of the Directive 2003/87/EC, which will determine the amount of greenhouse gas allowances to be allocated to each participating installation. Finalisation of allocations to individual enterprises is a matter for the board of the EPA, who will take decisions in line with the methods and timeframes set out in the directive.

Building Land.

Ceisteanna (75)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

201 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has received the results of the research he has commissioned from a company (details supplied) into the ownership and control of building land in certain development areas, particularly Dublin, to determine whether current practices are retarding the overall delivery of building land or impeding long-term market stability; if the results of the research will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2884/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The report on ownership and control of building land, which was commissioned by my Department from Goodbody economic consultants has now been received by my Department. The report is under consideration and will be published in due course.

Question No. 202 answered with QuestionNo. 155.

Radon Gas Levels.

Ceisteanna (76)

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

203 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will reintroduce the radon remedial grant scheme for domestic dwellings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2883/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

It would not be practicable in the current budgetary circumstances to provide for Exchequer funding of a radon remediation grant scheme in respect of domestic dwellings.

The carrying out of radon remediation works, where considered necessary, in respect of private houses is a matter for the householder. My Department's booklet, Radon in Existing Buildings — Corrective Options, provides advice on a range of appropriate remediation options. For example, improved ventilation all year round would be an immediate and non-costly action to prevent build up of radon gas in the home.

In relation to local authority houses, my Department is developing guidelines for local authorities which will recommend a programme of testing for radon in existing rented housing stock, excluding flats above ground floor level. This programme will be prioritised in areas where high radon levels are identified by the RPII and will involve remediation works by the local authorities where necessary. These guidelines will be issued in the near future.

Question No. 204 answered with QuestionNo. 154.

Nuclear Safety.

Ceisteanna (77)

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

205 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when a decision will be made on the location of the proposed radioactive waste storage facility; if a shortlist of sites has been drawn up; if he will publish the shortlist; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2881/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I refer to my reply to Question No. 947 of 27 January 2004. The RPII and my Department have been exploring possible locations for a storage facility. A shortlist has not been developed and a suitable location has yet to be identified. Any such site will be subject to the normal planning approval process.

Planning Issues.

Ceisteanna (78)

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

206 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress made to date in the review of the retail planning guidelines relating to floorspace cap on retail warehouses; when he expects that the process will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2869/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 919 and 999 of 27 January 2004.

Waste Management.

Ceisteanna (79)

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

207 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress made to date in regard to his consideration of the report of the health research board study commissioned by his Department into the likely effects of landfill and thermal treatment; the specific steps he intends to take to deal with the finding in the report that Ireland had insufficient resources to carry out adequate risk assessments for proposed waste management facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2877/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I refer to the reply to Question No. 62 of 26 November 2003. The discussions referred to in that reply are ongoing. I envisage that they will be concluded shortly. I will make a more detailed statement on the matter as soon as possible thereafter.

Planning Issues.

Ceisteanna (80)

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

208 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he intends to introduce the promised guidelines under the Planning and Development Act 2000 to deal with the issue of one off housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2862/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I refer to the reply to Question No. 164 of 29 January 2004.

Question No. 209 answered with QuestionNo. 160.

Local Authority Housing.

Ceisteanna (81)

Joe Costello

Ceist:

210 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the additional provision he intends to make from resources available to his Department in 2004 for the provision of accommodation for lone parents and other persons on low incomes, particularly given the recent announcement by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs of severe restrictions in eligibility for rent supplement; and her views that the housing needs of such people should be met by local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2859/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, in informing the House of changes in the SWA rent supplement scheme, has stated that there will be provision for exceptions in respect of the homeless, people who are at risk of becoming homeless and other vulnerable people. She has given a specific assurance that people who have particular problems and difficulties will be cared for and that nobody will be made homeless because of this measure. I understand that safeguards and exemptions in this regard have been incorporated in regulations made by the Minister and in guidelines issued by her Department to the health boards. My Department has advised housing authorities about the changes. Accordingly, the question of additional provision in this context does not arise.

Lone parents and persons of low income who are unable to provide housing for themselves from their own resources are entitled to apply for social housing which is provided by a local authority or a voluntary housing body. The Government's positive commitment to the social housing programme is shown in the increased provision for social and affordable housing in 2004. The total Exchequer and non-Exchequer housing provision of €1.885 billion in 2004 represents an increase of 5.5% on the 2003 provision. The increase in the housing provision will allow for 5,000 starts under the main local authority programme, an increase of 500 above 2003 levels and a further 500 commencements under area regeneration programmes in 2004. The voluntary housing sector will provide some 1,800 units of accommodation in 2004. Many of the housing units being provided by local authorities and voluntary bodies in 2004 will be let to lone parents and persons on low incomes.

Electronic Voting.

Ceisteanna (82)

Liam Twomey

Ceist:

211 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the evidence of the unreliability of electronic voting which makes the need for a paper trail more compelling and that the outcome of any election could be challenged. [2952/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The electronic voting system to be used in this country has a proven record of reliability, having been used in the Netherlands for over ten years and for some years in parts of Germany. The version of the voting machine for use here has undergone extensive testing by two international testing institutes which have positively endorsed the hardware and the proprietary software used in it. The system will not be connected to any network and security hardened stand-alone PCs will be employed for the programming and counting of modules.

The electronic voting system will, following the count, produce a full printout of all votes cast and of vote transfers. The proposition that an electronic system can be validated by a paper receipting process is highly problematic and creates many practical difficulties. Most fundamentally, it involves a dual system in which ambiguity will obtain as to whether the electronic data or the paper trail represents the validly cast vote. It is also premised on the perfect functioning of a printer. For these and other reasons, only a very small minority of electronic voting systems worldwide have incorporated a paper receipting function and it is not proposed to do this in Ireland. Adequate tests and checks will be deployed in advance of elections and will be capable of being deployed after elections to validate and provide reassurance on the integrity of the electronic voting system used in this country.

Statutory Instruments.

Ceisteanna (83)

John Bruton

Ceist:

212 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will undertake a study of all orders made by him that could now be considered to be potentially in breach of Article 25 of the Constitution in light of the judgement of the High Court that the Aliens Order was unconstitutional due to the fact that it constituted an attempt to determine by secondary legislation a matter that ought to have been determined by the Oireachtas itself; if he intends to undertake the introduction of any legislation to remove the constitutional infirmity of any existing orders in view of this judgement; and if not, the reason therefor. [2728/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

My Department is reviewing its statutory instruments in respect of which it is the Department with primary responsibility for compliance with the requirements of Bunreacht na hÉireann in the light of the recent High Court judgment concerning the Immigration Act 1999.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Ceisteanna (84, 85)

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

213 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach if he raised sectarian attacks and the drugs issue at his recent meeting with the political representatives of the UDA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2770/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I met representatives of the Ulster Political Research Group on Monday, 26 January last. I have long held the view that the opening of a dialogue with representatives of the loyalist community is important. The meeting was a logical follow-up to my meeting with the Loyalist Commission last June. I recognise the real concerns that loyalists have about issues that affect their communities, particularly jobs, housing and educational opportunities. I am encouraged by some of the positive work that is being done to address the problems in these communities. We want to be constructive and to assist in any way we can.

My views on paramilitarism and sectarianism are well known. I have made it clear to both republicans and loyalists that all such activity must cease. Violence and the threat of violence are not in anyone's interests. I deplore recent sectarian attacks, attacks against prison officers and racist attacks. Such illegalities and any other criminal activities must be dealt with by the police and those responsible brought to justice.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

214 Mr. O'Connor asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the UDA delegation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2772/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

I met representatives of the Ulster Political Research Group on Monday, 26 January last. I have long held the view that the opening of a dialogue with representatives of the loyalist community is important. The meeting was a logical follow-up to my meeting with the Loyalist Commission last June. I recognise the real concerns that loyalists have about issues that affect their communities, particularly jobs, housing and educational opportunities. I am encouraged by some of the positive work that is being done to address the problems in these communities. We want to be constructive and to assist in any way we can.

My views on paramilitarism and sectarianism are well known. I have made it clear to both republicans and loyalists that all such activity must cease. Violence and the threat of violence are not in anyone's interests. I deplore recent sectarian attacks, attacks against prison officers and racist attacks. Such illegalities and any other criminal activities must be dealt with by the police and those responsible brought to justice.

EU Presidency.

Ceisteanna (86)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

215 Mr. O'Connor asked the Taoiseach the plans his Department has to promote Ireland's EU Presidency with the Irish public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2793/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

Explaining the role and work of the Irish Presidency to the public and the media is a major task for the Government and the Department of the Taoiseach. My Department plans to communicate Ireland's EU Presidency to the Irish public in many ways, which I will outline.

A Presidency press office has been set up in my Department to handle EU media queries from the national, provincial and international media. It operates from my Department and liaises on a daily basis with the Presidency spokespeople in the permanent representation in Brussels to ensure a co-ordinated approach in dealing with media queries. In conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs, a user-friendly and easily accessible website went live at the end of December 2003. The site contains all the relevant information connected with our Presidency and is updated on a daily basis with speeches, press releases and other details. The EU logo was launched in July 2003. It was chosen by school children nationwide. Over 80,000 pupils cast their votes onwww.scoilnet.ie, of whom 73% voted for the logo that was finally selected.

My Department has undertaken an EU awareness campaign as part of its ongoing commitment to raising public awareness of our Presidency of the EU. For example, in the Dublin area some 100 buses have been given new graphics, using the theme of Europeans working together. Similar posters have been placed in DART stations. It is estimated that these posters have been seen by 70% of adults in the city.

The Government decided to bring the Presidency to the people to make Ireland's Presidency more accessible to the public at large. It decided to hold most of the informal ministerial meetings outside the capital. To complement this, a regional billboard campaign is running before each informal meeting for two weeks leading up to it, featuring well known local people from each area. Departmental press officers will liaise closely with the local media to provide press information regarding the meeting. We have distributed EU awareness posters to every primary and second level school in the country, over 4,000 schools in total. Every child in the country will be reached in this way. The posters are bilingual and are customised for the two different age groups.

A public information leaflet explaining Ireland's priorities for its EU Presidency has been prepared under the communicating Europe initiative. This leaflet briefly outlines the priorities of our six month Presidency in a simple and readable style. My Department is co-ordinating the distribution of the leaflet and 100,000 copies will be sent to Members of the Oireachtas, social partners, secondary schools, local authorities, citizens information centres, libraries and Departments. Ireland will host a welcome day for the ten countries that join the Union on 1 May. There will be a formal event in Dublin involving the heads of state or Government. Dublin will also host a major street party and concert. The major celebration events which will be held in Bray, Cork, Drogheda, Galway, Kilkenny, Killarney, Letterkenny, Limerick, Sligo and Waterford, the ten towns which have been twinned with the new member states, will be televised countrywide by RTE, the national public service broadcaster, and throughout Europe by the European Broadcasting Union.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Ceisteanna (87)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

216 Mr. O'Connor asked the Taoiseach his views on the political situation in the North; if his attention has been drawn to the strong interest in the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2794/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

Since the Assembly elections in November 2003, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and I have had a range of contacts and meetings with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Murphy, and the political parties. I met the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party, Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party in London on 17 December. I met the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, on Monday, 19 January, when I again urged the publication of Judge Cory's reports into the murders of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and Billy Wright. The Minister for Foreign Affairs met Paul Murphy at the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference on Thursday, 22 January. I met a DUP delegation led by Dr. Ian Paisley on Thursday, 29 January. All the contacts have focused on the review which is commencing today. Our approach in the review will be to try to secure a sustainable basis on which the Assembly can be restored and the Executive re-established. The Governments remain determined and committed to consolidating the peace and keeping the political process moving forward.

Departmental Offices.

Ceisteanna (88)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

217 Dr. Upton asked the Taoiseach his policy in respect of provision of local, nutritious food in the canteens and restaurants in the Department; the percentage of the purchased provisions which are produced locally; the percentage which is imported; the percentage of the food on sale which is fast food; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3061/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

There are no canteens or restaurants in my Department.

Departmental Transport.

Ceisteanna (89)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

218 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach the amount his Department paid out in 2003 for car mileage expenses; and the separate amount paid to cover rail or bus ticket expenses. [3171/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I will outline the amounts paid by my Department for 2003. The total amount paid for car mileage expenses was €106,269. The amount paid for rail ticket expenses was €2,655. The amount paid for bus ticket expenses was €2,038. The amount paid for car mileage expenses includes a total of €44,106 paid to delegates of the National Forum on Europe and the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.

Statutory Instruments.

Ceisteanna (90)

John Bruton

Ceist:

219 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will undertake a study of all orders made by her that could now be considered to be potentially in breach of Article 25 of the Constitution in view of the judgement of the High Court that the Aliens Order was unconstitutional due to the fact that it constituted an attempt to determine by secondary legislation a matter that ought to have been determined by the Oireachtas itself; if she intends to undertake the introduction of any legislation to remove the constitutional infirmity of any existing orders in view of this judgement; and if not, the reason therefor. [2729/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

My Department is reviewing its statutory instruments for compliance with the requirements of Bunreacht na hÉireann in the light of the recent High Court judgment concerning the Immigration Act 1999.

Work Permits.

Ceisteanna (91)

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

220 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if voluntary nursing homes, charities and health board-run hospitals are charged the work permit fee of €500; and if not, if they receive it free of charge. [2765/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

The annual work permit fee of €500 applies to all work permit applications except where my Department has decided that an exception is appropriate. Many organisations and businesses have charitable status for tax purposes and the work permit fee may be waived in respect of those organisations that are not engaged in competition in the marketplace.

Insurance Industry.

Ceisteanna (92)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

221 Mr. O'Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on the survey by the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority; the actions open to her to ensure that consumers get better value for money in respect of car insurance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2781/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

I welcome the survey by the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, which is to be carried out on a three-monthly basis. Provision of this survey implements recommendation No. 7 of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board's recommendations, which are central to the Government's insurance reform programme. This survey will help engender price competition and educate the public on premium variances. The Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, IFSRA, which came into being on 1 May 2003, has a wide regulatory remit, covering consumer protection and prudential supervision of practically all financial services, including insurance and the services provided by the insurance industry. The legislation setting up IFSRA provided for the establishment of a Director of Consumer Affairs, who has a clear role in consumer protection. There is a strong focus on transparency, competition and choice for the consumer.

While I no longer have responsibility for the regulation of insurance undertakings, I continue to have responsibility for the insurance reform programme which I launched on 25 October 2002. The reform programme is progressing well, with 32 of the 67 recommendations implemented. The pricing and underwriting of insurance is a matter for individual insurance companies and EU law prevents Governments from intervening directly in the matter. However, I have made it clear that I consider there to be an onus on the insurance industry to ensure that the reforms to be taken will have the effect of significantly reducing the cost of premiums to consumers. Reductions have already occurred in the cost of premiums and more reductions are expected.

EU Presidency.

Ceisteanna (93)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

222 Mr. O'Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the plans her Department has to promote Ireland's EU Presidency among the Irish public; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2782/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

My Department has published two separate programmes setting out the priorities and main activities in the key policy areas dealt with by the two Council of Ministers formations for which the Department takes lead responsibility, namely, the competitiveness council and the employment, social policy, health and consumer affairs council. Both programmes have been widely disseminated, are available from my Department and may be viewed on the official website of the Irish Presidency atwww.eu2004.ie and on the Department's website at www.entemp.ie. I have arranged for copies to be placed in the Houses of the Oireachtas. The programmes are available in both Irish and English.

In addition, I and my ministerial colleagues in the Department have issued a number of statements and press releases about our priorities for the Presidency. I have also given a number of media interviews on matters relating to the Presidency programme which have been carried by both the print and broadcast media. Presidency related events such as conferences, seminars and meetings are being held under the auspices of my Department at several venues around the country and are also being reported upon by local and national media.

More generally, Ireland's Presidency of the EU is being promoted to the public by the Government in many ways across all Departments. My own Department is contributing to this effort in a number of ways. For example, the Department contributed to the preparation of the overall programme for the Presidency, which was agreed by the Government and published by the Department of Foreign Affairs. As well as being disseminated in booklet form, the programme is available on the website of the Irish Presidency at the address given above. An outline of the key areas of Presidency activity for which my Department is responsible has also been included in public statements and presentations by both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, including to the Oireachtas.

The Irish Presidency website also contains user-friendly information about all aspects of the Presidency, including the policy areas for which my Department is responsible. Further information will be posted on the site and publicised in more traditional ways on an ongoing basis as developments occur on various issues during the Presidency. The activities and areas of interest to my Department are also reflected in various media programmes, information and public awareness campaigns and other initiatives promoted by the Department of Foreign Affairs. An information leaflet summarising Ireland's Presidency goals and objectives will also be launched in the coming weeks and will be distributed to schools, non-governmental organisations and the wider public. Publicly accessible information on all new EU legislative proposals will be submitted to the Oireachtas in the normal way during the Presidency under the statutory Oireachtas scrutiny arrangements introduced by the Government in 2002.

Job Creation.

Ceisteanna (94)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

223 Mr. O'Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on recent criticisms that not enough jobs are being created in the Dublin region; her further views on the need for such employment creation; her policy on the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2783/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

Significant job creation is continuing to take place in the Dublin area despite the difficult global economic environment. Indeed, Dublin continues to perform better than the rest of the country in terms of job creation. As regards attracting overseas industry, IDA Ireland's strategy for Dublin is to attract and expand major foreign direct investment projects while moving up the value chain.

Over the past 18 months, investment in eight significant projects with a job potential of 2,230 has been announced for Dublin. Job creation arising from these projects will continue throughout 2004. In addition, I announced yesterday that Merrill Lynch, one of the world's leading financial management and advisory companies, is opening a second office in Dublin. The numbers employed in Dublin will increase by up to 300 over the next four years, bringing employment in Ireland up to 700 people when the project is fully implemented.

As regards indigenous companies, Enterprise Ireland and the Dublin enterprise boards are continuing to work with new and existing clients in the Dublin area. Enterprise Ireland is also encouraging companies to adopt new technologies and move up the value chain.

Unemployment Levels.

Ceisteanna (95)

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

224 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the initiatives her Department is earmarking or launching in order to curb the escalating rise in unemployment in County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2784/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

In recent months I met with the Donegal County Development Board and an IBEC north-west delegation to discuss employment in the county. I have arranged for the expert skills group in Forfás to carry out further research on the labour market needs of the region and I expect this to get under way shortly.

The key to enhancing employment in Donegal is the development of infrastructure, particularly roads, water, energy — including electricity and gas — air access and broadband communications, and a programme of work is being implemented in these areas. The Government, along with the industrial development agencies, is committed to ensuring balanced regional development, particularly through the implementation of the national spatial strategy and the recently announced decentralisation programme which should facilitate economic development in Donegal.

Industrial Development.

Ceisteanna (96)

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

225 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on the role of IDA Ireland in County Donegal; the breakdown of jobs created by the IDA in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2785/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

IDA Ireland is the agency statutorily charged with the attraction of foreign direct investment to Ireland and its regions. The agency, through its project divisions and network of overseas offices, is actively marketing County Donegal to overseas investors as a potential location for foreign direct investment. Ultimately, decisions regarding where to locate a project, including which areas to visit as potential locations, are taken by overseas investors.

Over the period 1999 to 2002, the number of jobs created in IDA-supported companies in County Donegal were as follows:

1999

2000

2001

2002

67

308

353

179

The above figures are compiled from the annual Forfás employment survey. Although the 2003 Forfás survey has just been completed, detailed figures on a county-by-county basis for 2003 will not be available until the survey is published.

EU Enlargement.

Ceisteanna (97)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

226 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the reason Ireland has a differing policy from the majority of EU countries on restrictions to the entry of persons from accession countries; if there are protections to ensure that this does not facilitate the movement of persons involved in organised crime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2986/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

From 1 May 2004, the ten accession countries will be party to the treaties governing the European Communities and their citizens will, in general, enjoy the same rights as current EU citizens. However, this does not apply to provisions for labour market access. In this area, a transitional period was agreed at EU level during which each member state will be able to exercise discretion as to the extent of access to their respective labour markets. The exception to this arrangement provides for full access to the EU labour market for Malta and Cyprus. This transitional period lasts for up to five years following accession, or seven in the case of a serious disruption to the labour market of a member state.

Ireland has decided to afford full labour market access to the nationals of these new member states on the same basis as current EU nationals, with effect from the date of accession. An expanded EU labour market of 25 countries will provide a widened pool of skilled labour from which Irish employers should be able to meet their ongoing skills needs. Furthermore, only some 35% of our overseas labour in recent years has come from the accession states. Clearly, given our continuing need for overseas labour and the relatively high unemployment in some of the accession states, there is ample room to improve the percentage of overseas workers coming from the countries in question. Where my Department is satisfied that the requisite skills are available in the expanded EU, a work permit will not be granted to bring somebody from outside into the EU to fill the vacancy in question. In short, an increase in labour market participation from within the expanded EU will mean a reduced need to attract labour from elsewhere in the world.

All research to date suggests that the impact on the EU labour market of the freedom of movement of workers after accession should be limited. However, it has been predicted that the impact of labour migration would be concentrated in certain frontline member states, resulting in possible disturbances to the labour markets there. It is for this reason that Germany and Austria, in particular, have chosen to retain their current work permit regime for the transitional period. While matters are still developing, it is clear that a number of other member states now propose to continue to manage the opening up of their labour markets and that some are perhaps more concerned about liberal access to their social security system than about access to the labour marketper se. Any question relating to organised crime, be it from within the existing EU or from the new member states, is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Consumer Issues.

Ceisteanna (98)

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

227 Ms Lynch asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she plans introducing legislation to curb excessive booking fees whereby the ticket-selling companies can no longer charge multiple handling fees on the one transaction and to force them to charge a flat fee per transaction as opposed to a fee per ticket. [2988/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

I am aware of the practice whereby ticket-selling companies charge handling fees in respect of each ticket regardless of the number of tickets purchased in a single transaction. I am not convinced, however, that legislative action to curb this practice would necessarily be in the best interest of the consumer. For example, ticket-selling companies might consider that the present system spreads their handling costs evenly, and that if charges were to be applied on a per transaction basis, then consumers purchasing single tickets or smaller numbers of tickets might experience price increases. However, the Consumer Information (Advertisement for Concert or Theatre Performances) Order 1997 provides a measure of transparency for consumers in regard to prices and charges for concert tickets. This order is actively enforced by the Director of Consumer Affairs.

Groceries Order.

Ceisteanna (99)

John Dennehy

Ceist:

228 Mr. Dennehy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she is continuing to review the Groceries Order in relation to below-cost selling; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3005/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

My review of the Groceries Order is ongoing and I hope to conclude my consideration of the matter in the near future.

Community Employment Schemes.

Ceisteanna (100)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

229 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position on persons over 55 years of age who have served three years' participation on community employment schemes, who wish to continue participating on the scheme; and if they will be allowed after the expiry of their three-year period of participation. [3006/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

As part of the Government's decision in 1999 to restructure community employment, future participation in CE by an individual was capped at three years, effective from April 2000. This change was introduced to discourage repeated participation in CE and to encourage unemployed persons to avail of training or education options where possible, which are shown to have more successful progression outcomes for individuals. The three year cap was amended in August 2001 to allow particularly disadvantaged persons to remain on the programme for a further period.

In the case of people aged over 50, the three-year cap on participation has been removed where people in this age group, having spent three years on the programme, continue to experience difficulties in obtaining employment. Participants are considered for an extension if on reaching the end of their normal entitlements on CE they are likely to experience difficulty in getting employment due to their age, literacy or numeracy problems or a lack of suitable jobs available locally. FÁS has discretion to offer up to 20% of the total number of CE participants a further period on the programme on a case-by-case basis. The structure of the CE programme is under review. A decision on the future eligibility criteria for participants on CE will be taken when the current review process has been brought to a conclusion.

Departmental Offices.

Ceisteanna (101)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

230 Dr. Upton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her policy in respect of provision of local, nutritious food in the canteens and restaurants in the Department; the percentage of the purchased provisions which are produced locally; the percentage which is imported; the percentage of the food on sale which is fast food; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3062/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

There are two canteens in my Department and both are contracted out to private enterprise. I have no function regarding any decisions taken by the owners in the running of either business.

Departmental Travel.

Ceisteanna (102)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

231 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the amount her Department paid out in 2003 for car mileage expenses; and the separate amount paid to cover rail or bus ticket expenses. [3172/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

The total amount paid by my Department for car mileage expenses in 2003 was €352,291. In addition, a total of €106,367 was paid in respect of other modes of transport such as taxis, bus or rail.

Departmental Properties.

Ceisteanna (103, 104, 105, 106, 107)

Jack Wall

Ceist:

232 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Defence the reason that account was not taken of the representations of the townspeople and business community of Kildare town regarding the Kildare town development plan, and to the commitments to the community of Kildare, when it was announced without prior notice in 2003 that Magee Barracks, Kildare, was designated as a location for social and affordable housing. [3120/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jack Wall

Ceist:

233 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Defence in view of his commitment to the citizens of Kildare town to provide for the proper and balanced development of Kildare, following the closure of Magee Barracks in 1998, if he will make a statement on the matter, given that the commitment is not now being honoured. [3122/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jack Wall

Ceist:

237 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Defence if the purpose for closing Magee Barracks in Kildare in 1998 was to sell the property on the open market to obtain the best price to provide funding for the reinvestment in the infrastructure of the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3124/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jack Wall

Ceist:

239 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Defence the reason for the proposed handover of property, namely Magee Barracks, Kildare, to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for social and affordable housing, when Magee Barracks is the most suitable location at least cost to the taxpayer for the headquarters of the decentralised Department of Defence. [3126/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jack Wall

Ceist:

240 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Defence his views in relation to a submission (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 232, 233, 237, 239 and 240 together.

As the Deputy is aware, the Government decided on 1 July 2003 that Magee Barracks, Kildare, would be among the State lands released to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for inclusion in the Sustaining Progress affordable housing initiative. The intention is that this initiative will be targeted at those who in the past would have expected to purchase a house from their own resources but find that they are unable to do so in the current market. The release of State lands under this initiative is a critical first step in ensuring early delivery of affordable housing units. With regard to Magee Barracks, the modalities of the transfer of the property to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government are under active consideration. The future development of this site is a matter for that Department and Kildare County Council.

Statutory Instruments.

Ceisteanna (108)

John Bruton

Ceist:

234 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Defence if he will undertake a study of all orders made by him that could now be considered to be potentially in breach of Article 25 of the Constitution in view of the judgment of the High Court that the Aliens Order was unconstitutional due to the fact that it constituted an attempt to determine by secondary legislation a matter that ought to have been determined by the Oireachtas itself; if he intends to undertake the introduction of any legislation to remove the constitutional infirmity of any existing orders in view of this judgment; and if not, the reason therefor. [2730/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

My Department is reviewing its statutory instruments for compliance with the requirements of Bunreacht na hÉireann in the light of the recent High Court judgment concerning the Immigration Act 1999.

EU Presidency.

Ceisteanna (109)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

235 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Defence the plans his Department has to promote Ireland's EU Presidency among the Irish public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2796/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

Promoting the Irish Presidency of the European Union to the public is a key priority of Ireland's EU Presidency programme and forms part of a wider commitment by the Government to communicating information about the EU to the public.

I understand that my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, will provide a more detailed outline of plans in this regard in response to a similar question which has been tabled by the Deputy. However, I would like to highlight some initiatives, including the EU 2004 Presidency website, which is managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and features a range of user-friendly information on all aspects of the Presidency from details of events and meeting venues across Ireland to the latest press releases on developing issues. In addition, it is envisaged that the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, will chair a conference of Ministers from existing, acceding and candidate states on 7 and 8 April to review existing EU information strategies and to discuss how the EU might be communicated more effectively to its citizens.

Departmental Offices.

Ceisteanna (110)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

236 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Defence his policy in respect of provision of local, nutritious food in the canteens and restaurants in the Department; the percentage of the purchased provisions which are produced locally; the percentage which is imported; the percentage of the food on sale which is fast food; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3063/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The type of detailed statistical information sought by the Deputy is not readily available in my Department. However I have asked that such information as may be available should be compiled as soon as possible and I will communicate directly with the Deputy at an early date.

Question No. 237 answered with QuestionNo. 232.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ceisteanna (111)

Jack Wall

Ceist:

238 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Defence the reason he is decentralising the Department of Defence to Newbridge, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3125/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The Government has decided that my Department's Dublin based Civil Service staff and Defence Forces headquarters should be decentralised to Newbridge and the Curragh respectively. A wide range of factors were taken into account and balanced against each other by the Government in selecting Departments and agencies for decentralisation and locations for the new decentralised offices. These factors included: in selecting Departments and agencies for decentralisation, the core business and nature of the relevant Departments-agencies and the location of their customer base; and in selecting locations for decentralised offices, the need to achieve a fit with the national spatial strategy, in terms of the gateways, hubs and their respective catchments, the location of existing decentralised offices, the desirability of clustering a Department's decentralised units within a region, the importance of respecting the scale and character of locations in terms of their capacity to absorb the number of new jobs involved, the existence of good transport links — by road, rail and-or air — and the general infrastructural capacity in the areas selected.

Questions Nos. 239 and 240 answered with Question No. 232.

Departmental Travel.

Ceisteanna (112)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

241 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Defence the amount his Department paid out in 2003 for car mileage expenses; and the separate amount paid to cover rail or bus ticket expenses. [3173/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The amounts paid by my Department in 2003 in respect of civil and military personnel were €2.045 million in car mileage allowances and €609,000 for rail and bus ticket expenses.

Grant Payments.

Ceisteanna (113, 114)

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

242 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2705/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

The person named included a number of forage parcels on his 2002 area aid application on which a number of overclaims were determined. In one of these land parcels, the overclaim represented 6.02 hectares of forestry. This particular claim came to light as a result of a cross-compliance check with the forest service, carried out in 2003. An overall overclaim of 14.17% was established. Under EU rules, where an applicant makes an overclaim of between 3% and 20%, a penalty of double the difference must be applied in determining the area eligible for payment purposes. Therefore, after application of the penalty, an area of 25.09 hectares was determined for his 2002 area aid. My Department will be in further correspondence with the person named concerning the recovery of any overpayments made to him.

The 2003 area aid application of the person named was fully processed with an area determined for payment purposes of 34.91 hectares. The person named was paid €3095.06 on 21 January 2004 under the 2003 area-based compensatory allowance scheme based on an area of 25.99 hectares. He was paid €951.80 in respect of 9.37 hectares of mountain type land at €101.58 per hectare and €1477.19 in respect of 16.62 hectares of more severely handicapped land at €88.88 per hectare, and an additional sum of €666.07 under a compensation package agreed with the European Commission for farmers experiencing losses under the area-based compensatory allowance scheme.

The person named applied for premium on 11 animals under the 2003 suckler cow premium scheme. According to the terms and conditions of the scheme, a producer may be paid premium on up to 1.8 reckonable livestock units only per hectare of the forage area of his or her holding, as established from the producer's 2003 area aid application and any cattle submitted for 2003 suckler cow premium and special beef premium over and above that 1.8 reckonable livestock units limit shall not be paid such premium. The livestock units are calculated taking into account male cattle on which the producer applies for special beef premium, ewes submitted for 2003 ewe premium, notional dairy cows needed to produce any milk quota held and suckler cows or heifers in the herd for which suckler cow premium has been requested.

At the time of payment of the 80% advance instalment, the area aid record for the person named showed 25.99 hectares of forage area, which would allow payment on a maximum of 46.78 livestock units. Payment amounting to €1933.06 issued on 21 January 2004 in respect of 10.78 suckler cows as entitlement had already been established for 36 livestock units under the ewe premium scheme. This person's applications will be examined again taking account of the increase to 34.91 hectares of his forage area.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

243 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason a person (details supplied) in County Clare has not received their forestry payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2722/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Payment of the 2004 forestry premium will begin from the end of March, as has been the position over recent years.

Statutory Instruments.

Ceisteanna (115)

John Bruton

Ceist:

244 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will undertake a study of all orders made by him that could now be considered to be potentially in breach of Article 25 of the Constitution in view of the judgment of the High Court that the Aliens Order was unconstitutional due to the fact that it constituted an attempt to determine by secondary legislation a matter that ought to have been determined by the Oireachtas itself; if he intends to undertake the introduction of any legislation to remove the constitutional infirmity of any existing Orders in view of this judgment; and if not, the reason therefor. [2731/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

My Department operates a wide range of legislation and I am not aware of any conflict with Article 25 of the Constitution. The legal services division of my Department constantly reviews all legislation within my ambit. In the event that legislation is found to be defective on grounds of constitutionality or otherwise, the division will consult with the Office of the Attorney General and advise on any remedial action required to be introduced.

EU Presidency.

Ceisteanna (116)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

245 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the plans his Department has to promote Ireland's EU Presidency with the Irish public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2797/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

The programme for the Irish term of the EU Presidency, which includes a statement of the objectives and the work programme on agriculture, was published on 18 December 2003 and was officially launched by the Taoiseach on 1 January 2004. The programme was also put on the Presidency websitehttp:// www.EU2004.ie.

I will continue to avail of every opportunity through my attendance and addresses at agricultural and rural development fora in Ireland and abroad, press conferences following each meeting of the Council of Ministers, statements to the press, updating the Presidency website and other appropriate means to keep the public informed of progress on the programme.

The holding of EU meetings in Ireland will also present opportunities for bringing the Presidency to the attention of the Irish public. In the agriculture area, meetings that are planned, include an informal meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, the special committee on agriculture, chief veterinary officers and directors of European agricultural guidance and guarantee fund paying agencies.

Grant Payments.

Ceisteanna (117)

Michael Ring

Ceist:

246 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be paid the suckler cow premium for 2003, considering that they submitted an amendment form for farm-to-farm animal movements. [2808/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

The person named applied for premium on 12 animals under the 2003 suckler cow premium scheme. While processing the application, it was found that data on animal tag number 272301750098 did not appear to be sufficient to account for all movements for this animal. This information has since been updated but further checks against CMMS showed that the animal was sold inside the six months retention period and would, therefore, require replacing. The applicant has nominated a replacement animal and the case has been processed further. Payment of the 80% advance instalment will issue shortly.

Appointments to State Boards.

Ceisteanna (118, 119)

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

247 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food his proposals on the appointment of the replacement for a person (details supplied) on the board of Teagasc; and if it contravened the Government's commitment to gender balance on public boards. [2821/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

249 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he is satisfied with the gender balance of the present board of Teagasc; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2826/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 247 and 249 together.

The Teagasc authority comprises a chairman and ten ordinary members. Five of the ordinary members are nominated by outside organisations and five are nominated by me. The five, which I nominate, are appointed by me on the basis of their knowledge or experience of agriculture, agricultural research, education, food processing, the food industry or the management of commercial enterprises. Each appointment is the most suitable, in the best interest of the organisation and the overall balance of the board. I am fully committed to the policies of equality and gender balance and actively promote these policies as far as possible.

Grant Payments.

Ceisteanna (120)

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

248 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if 1999 cattle headage will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Donegal. [2822/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

As stated in my reply to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 72 of 20 June 2002 and 174 of 19 November 2002, the person named was informed on 18 February 2000 by his district livestock office that his 1999 cattle headage grants were being refused because he had failed to comply with the provisions of the Diseases of Animals Act 1966. He was given the opportunity to have this decision reviewed by writing to my Department within 21 days setting out any facts which he wished to put forward to support his case. He asked for a review by letter dated 28 February 2001. His case was examined and the original decision was upheld. He was notified of the results of the review by letter of 10 April 2001 and was given the opportunity to appeal the decision to the headage and premium appeals unit.

His case was fully examined in the appeals unit, where the decision to refuse grants was upheld, and he was notified of same by letter of 15 October 2001. At his request, his case was further examined at an oral hearing on 19 December 2001, but the appeals unit did not amend its original findings, and informed him accordingly by letter of 9 January 2002.

I understand that the person named has referred this matter to the Office of the Ombudsman and that it is being examined in that office at present.

Question No. 249 answered with QuestionNo. 247.

Compensation Payments.

Ceisteanna (121)

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

250 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will ensure that a person (details supplied) in County Cavan is adequately compensated for their herd which is being depopulated under the bovine TB eradication scheme; and the reason his Department has not accepted CAP certificate which proves that the herd concerned has an average milk yield of 1,412 gallons per cow, which under the national system entitles the farmer to maximum compensation. [3009/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

Under the terms of the on-farm market valuation scheme which was agreed following protracted negotiations with the farming organisations, individual dairy cow records are used in determining valuation if the herd has been milk recorded. Therefore, as the herd in this case has been milk recorded, the individual yield and not the average milk yield of the herd must apply for valuation purposes.

The first valuation has recently been received by my Department and is being examined. Under the terms of this scheme, either party can reject the first valuation. Where this happens, a second valuation will be urgently carried out but the same individual milk production records must be used.

Grant Payments.

Ceisteanna (122)

Michael Ring

Ceist:

251 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive his REP scheme payment. [3010/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

I understand that the person named is a member of the original participant's family and is taking over the holding and the REPS plan. In these circumstances, my Department requires a new plan and a REPS 12000 form to be submitted in the name of the person named. The REPS planner involved in this case has been notified directly of this requirement. Once this documentation has been submitted processing of the application can continue.

Departmental Offices.

Ceisteanna (123)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

252 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food his policy in respect of provision of local, nutritious food in the canteens and restaurants in the Department; the percentage of the purchased provisions which are produced locally; the percentage which is imported; the percentage of the food on sale which is fast food; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3064/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

The restaurant in Agriculture House is run as a dining club. The canteens in the Department's regional offices in Wexford, Portlaoise and Castlebar are the subject of franchise agreements. I understand the bulk of the food used by the franchise holders is purchased locally and is of Irish origin.

Departmental Travel.

Ceisteanna (124)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

253 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the amount his Department paid out in 2003 for car mileage expenses; and the separate amount paid to cover rail or bus ticket expenses. [3174/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

Total expenditure in my Department for 2003 in respect of car mileage expenses was €8,715,335. A total of €176,027 was paid in respect of rail and bus ticket expenses.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ceisteanna (125)

David Stanton

Ceist:

254 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will consider opening or relocating an agriculture office in east or north Cork to provide a service to the farmers there in view of the fact that the proposal to move all the staff at present working in Cork city to Macroom will necessitate a long journey through Cork city for farmers from the east and the north of the county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3222/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

I refer the Deputy to the Budget Statement of the Minister for Finance on decentralisation of this Department's Cork city staff to Macroom. I have no plans to open or relocate another office in Cork.

Departmental Properties.

Ceisteanna (126)

John McGuinness

Ceist:

255 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider making the units of accommodation purchased for use by the RIA, but now in storage, available to schools or community groups which are in urgent need of extra accommodation to get some value for money for the spend; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3034/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

The buildings concerned were purchased for use at the proposed RIA centre in Kilkenny, which is currently the subject of a case before the courts. One of the buildings has been erected at MediaLab Europe for use as a children's computer club. I am asking the Department of Education and Science if it has any appropriate accommodation needs which could be satisfied by the other five buildings currently in storage.

Tax Code.

Ceisteanna (127)

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

256 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance if he has satisfied himself that compliance with the law is an essential condition for all suppliers to Departments and State-sponsored bodies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3169/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

Suppliers to Departments and State-sponsored bodies must comply with laws relating to payment of taxes and social welfare contributions. Suppliers of goods or services in excess of €6,500 in any 12 month period must produce a tax clearance certificate from the Revenue Commissioners in accordance with the terms set out in Circular 22/95, Tax Clearance Procedures — Public Sector Contracts, issued by the Department of Finance.

Suppliers who have been guilty of grave professional misconduct, are bankrupt or being wound up, may be excluded from a public contract. Under revised directives on public procurement, which are due to be adopted shortly at EU level, it will be mandatory to exclude parties who have been convicted of serious crime such as fraud, corruption, money laundering or involvement in organised crime, from participating in public contracts.

Drainage Schemes.

Ceisteanna (128, 129)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

257 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance when it is expected to complete the drainage works identified throughout County Kildare in the past five years, with particular reference to Mill Lane, Leixlip, Clane, Johnstown and Kilcock; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3202/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

The Office of Public Works has implemented a drainage scheme to alleviate localised flooding in the Hazelhatch area of counties Kildare and south Dublin. Construction works on the scheme, known as the Shinkeen stream — Hazelhatch — drainage scheme, commenced in July 2001 and were finished by end of 2002 while the formal completion certificate under the Acts issued in January 2003.

In addition to the Hazelhatch scheme, a report was received in October 2001 from Kildare County Council in relation to flooding on the Lyreen and Meadowbrook rivers in the Maynooth area, and a further report was received in November 2001 on flooding in the Morrell river in the Kill-Johnstown area. Following meetings between my officials in the OPW and officials from Kildare County Council, an interim programme of flood alleviation works at an estimated cost of €1,130,500 was agreed for the enhancement of the Morrell river and the Lyreen-Meadowbrook rivers. The works on the Lyreen-Meadowbrook have now been completed and those on the Morrell have been substantially progressed but difficulties in relation to environmental considerations and also impacts on adjoining property owners have contributed to delays in completing the works. I understand that Kildare County Council are working to resolve these difficulties.

Reports on proposed flood relief works in Ardclough and Straffan were received from Kildare County Council in January 2003. Subsequent examination of the reports by the OPW found that the report submitted on Straffan refers to surface water drainage problems and the proposed works would therefore be outside the scope of the Arterial Drainage Acts which legislate for fluvial flooding. My officials subsequently met with officials from Kildare County Council to discuss the Ardclough report and advised that the report required more technical detail as well as cost-benefit analysis and environmental assessment.

It is understood that the county council are also in the process of having a report prepared on flooding in the Rye Water and Liffey rivers which impact on Mill Lane, Leixlip, and I expect that this report will be forwarded to the OPW when available and that the OPW will consider what assistance, if any, can be given to the county council. The OPW has not received any report from the county council in relation to flooding at Clane.

A further meeting between OPW and the County Council officials has been arranged for 4 February 2004 when the situation regarding the Morrell, Ardclough and Mill Lane will be reviewed. I emphasise, however, that any proposed works must have regard to the commitment of resources to flood relief works in the OPW's existing work programme for 2004. In addition, the flood policy review group which I initiated in November 2002, has now completed its work and the report of the review group has been circulated to all Departments for consideration before being submitted to Government for approval. Subject to Government approval, I hope to publish the report in the very near future.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

258 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the extent to which he or his Department has examined drainage requirements throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3203/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Act 1995 empowered the Commissioners of Public Works to carry out drainage schemes for the alleviation of localised flooding and was enacted following the widespread flooding which occurred in 1994-95. A list of nine priority areas was identified at that time as follows:

· Mulkear river, Newport, County Tipperary

· Nanny river, Duleek, County Meath

· Sixmilebridge, County Clare

· Gort Town, Bridge Street

· Mulkear river, Cappamore, County Limerick

· Bandon river, Dunmanway

· Nore river, Kilkenny city

· Barrow river, Carlow town

· Williamstown, County Galway

Messrs Ove Arup and Partners, Consulting Engineers, were commissioned in May 1996 to carry out a scoping report on areas around the country prone to flooding with a view to advising the Office of Public Works on the compilation of a priority list of ten to 20 areas to be examined for future flood relief schemes, in effect, to prioritise schemes in some order so that a national flood relief programme of works could be carried out on an ongoing-phased basis. In excess of 280 areas were brought to the attention of the consultants in this way. Several local authorities subsequently advised the OPW of further various locations around the country which were subject to flooding problems. All of this gave rise to the OPW's ongoing work programme of flood relief schemes.

To date, flood relief schemes have been completed at the following locations: the Mulkear river catchment at Cappamore, County Limerick — scheme works started in 1998 and completed in 2000; Newport, County Tipperary — scheme works started in 1997 and completed in 1998; Nanny River, Duleek, County Meath — scheme started 1997 and completed 1998; Sixmilebridge, County Clare — started 1996 and completed 1997; Gort Town, Bridge Street, County Galway — started 1996 and completed 1997; Lacken, Ardrahan, County Galway — carried out in 1997; Maam Valley, County Galway — completed January 2001; Hazelhatch, County Kildare, Shinkeen stream catchment — scheme completed end 2001; Dunmanway, County Cork, Bandon river catchment — scheme started in 2000 and completed 2001; Belclare, County Galway, Clare river catchment — a flood relief scheme was completed, using powers under the Arterial Drainage Act 1945, in 1995; Bridgend, County Donegal — small scheme carried out by the OPW in 2000; and Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, Suir river catchment — completed 2003.

In Kilkenny city a major flood relief scheme is currently under construction — Nore river catchment. The construction works commenced in September 2001 and are due for completion by end of 2004. The implementation of the interim flood alleviation works on the River Tolka in both Dublin city and county Meath, by OPW direct labour, have largely been completed at a cost of €2 million approximately. Works also continued by direct labour on the Morrell river, County Kildare.

During 2003 engineering reports were completed along with outline design for flood relief schemes in Mallow and Fermoy, both on the Munster Blackwater river.

Pre-feasibility-feasibility studies were commenced by OPW on the River Slaney, Enniscorthy, River Slaney, Tullow, River Mall, Templemore, and certain areas of the River Shannon. Studies funded by OPW were also commenced by relevant local authorities on the River Mornington, Mornington, River Avoca, Arklow, and the Dublin coastal zone risk assessment.

Local authorities were also put in funds to carry out flood relief works and studies in numerous locations throughout the country, for example, in Limerick city, Clancy's Strand, Athlone, River Al, Freemount, County Cork, Freemount Stream, and various areas in County Wicklow.

Proposed flood relief schemes for Clonmel, County Tipperary, Suir river catchment, Carlow Town, Barrow river catchment, and John's River, Waterford city, have all completed public exhibition stage.

While the OPW has been fully engaged in the implementation of the above programme of flood relief it has to be recognised that the increased frequency of serious flooding events in the last number of years has been a matter of great national concern. I therefore announced in November 2002 a major review of national flooding policy so that the Government, through the OPW and local authorities, would be in a position to respond adequately to this major issue. Although the OPW is engaged in ongoing flood relief measures throughout the country, I initiated the review to develop a streamlined national flooding policy that would deal with the growth and complexity of the flooding problem.

The purpose of the review was to assess the extent of the problem countrywide, clarify roles and responsibilities of the various agencies involved, and recommend practical action to deal with the scourge of flooding. The review was carried out by a group representing the major stakeholders — the OPW, the Departments of Finance, Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, and Agriculture and Food, local authorities and representatives of farming organisations and IBEC. The review group received submissions from, and consulted with, a further wide range of relevant bodies. The review group has completed its work and its report has been circulated to all Departments for consideration before being submitted to Government for approval. Subject to Government approval, I hope to publish the report in the very near future.

Departmental Properties.

Ceisteanna (130)

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

259 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 139 of 10 December 2003, the duration of the lease and the person from whom each property was rented; if, in view of the promise made on 10 December 2003 in reply to the parliamentary question that the details would be forwarded to the Deputy and have not been so forwarded, he will now release the details; and the reason, if detailed plans were in place for decentralisation, his Department did not have the information of the nature requested on 10 December 2003. [2700/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

A very considerable amount of staff time has been expanded on this issue to date. The information sought is currently being compiled. The completed information will be forwarded to the Deputy within the next week.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ceisteanna (131, 132, 133)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

260 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the arrangements being put in place to redeploy staff who opt not to move to decentralised locations under the present decentralisation programme; if these arrangements will apply to specialist executive agencies as well as to persons within the Civil Service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2702/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Seán Ardagh

Ceist:

267 Mr. Ardagh asked the Minister for Finance his proposals for those civil servants who wish to remain in Dublin despite decentralisation; and if he can give an assurance that the jobs to which they will be transferred will be of the same type, status or have the same promotion prospects or career path as those they currently have. [2756/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

268 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding public servants and the decentralisation plan; if it will ever be compulsory; the future of public servants that cannot move due to personal and family reasons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2768/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 260, 267 and 268 together.

I have already made it clear that the decentralisation programme will operate on a voluntary basis. Civil and public servants who do not wish to transfer to a decentralised location will be assigned to alternative posts in Dublin. The exact procedures which will apply in such cases will be dealt with as part of the implementation process and will be discussed with the public service unions.

Decentralisation will inevitably change the way in which the public service will operate in the future. In the case of promotion prospects, there will continue to be broadly speaking the same opportunities across the Civil Service but the impact on the individuals — both those serving in Dublin and outside Dublin — will depend upon a variety of factors. The decentralised nature of the Civil Service will mean that people, particularly those at the more senior levels, will in the future have to consider their career prospects in the light of the opportunities that arise both in Dublin and outside Dublin. I expect, for example, that the question of regional promotion structures is an issue that is likely to arise in the discussions with the unions.

One of the advantages of the decentralisation programme is that it will create a wider range of work and career opportunities for individuals working outside Dublin than is currently the case. Present and future civil servants who aspire to senior management positions will no longer have to migrate to the capital, although many may well continue to do so. Similarly, individuals serving in Dublin will be able to pursue their careers within Dublin but again, many may choose to avail of promotion opportunities in decentralised offices.

Tax Collection.

Ceisteanna (134)

Pat Carey

Ceist:

261 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Finance if, in view of the fact that an order for the execution of the judgment against a person (details supplied) is about to be executed, he will urge the Revenue Commissioners to make one final attempt at establishing whether there are any details in the area of capital gains tax which have not been fully examined and which may have a bearing on the case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2703/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that there is no record of capital gains tax in this case. The taxpayer has approached the Revenue Commissioners on a number of occasions claiming that payments he had made had not been credited against his tax liabilities. Following exhaustive searches of their records, the Revenue Commissioners have assured me that all payments made by the taxpayer have been credited against his tax liabilities.

In 1993 judgment mortgages were registered against his dwelling house in respect of unpaid taxes. These remain in place but the Revenue Commissioners have informed me that they will not proceed to execute these judgments unless there is a change in the taxpayer's circumstances.

Departmental Offices.

Ceisteanna (135, 136, 137, 138)

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

262 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Finance if any other premises were visited prior to deciding to locate the probation and welfare office at Donaghmede Shopping Centre. [2714/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

No other premises were inspected prior to deciding to locate the probation and welfare offices at Donaghmede Shopping Centre as no other sites acceptable to the probation and welfare service were available in the area at the relevant time.

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

263 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Finance if the tender for the refurbishment of the premises to be used as the probation office at Donaghmede was published in the Official Journal of the EU Commission, and if so, in which issue. [2716/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

264 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Finance if he has satisfied himself that the refurbishment work being carried out at the site of the probation office in Donaghmede will not add to the value of the building. [2717/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

265 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Finance the latest estimate on the final cost for the fit-out, including design fees and VAT, for the probation office at Donaghmede. [2718/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The value of the construction works for the probation and welfare office at Donaghmede Shopping Centre was far below the limit that required advertising in the Official Journal of the EU Commission. In the opinion of the Commissioners of Public Works the works carried out at the second floor of Donaghmede Shopping Centre on behalf of the probation and welfare service do not add to the value of the shopping centre. The final cost for the fit out, including VAT and design team fees, of the probation and welfare offices at Donaghmede Shopping Centre is €1.805 million.

Statutory Instruments.

Ceisteanna (9)

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

139 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason it is intended to spend a total of €1,539,348 on the production and airing of a television advertisement depicting householders as responsible for a waste crisis when, in fact, householders account for 15% of waste going to landfill.

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (28 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Excluding private/industrial landfills, which are largely dedicated facilities provided in conjunction with certain types of industrial installations, the report shows that a total of 3.1 million tonnes of waste was accepted at local authority landfills in 2001. Of this, 1.25 million tonnes, or 40%, was household waste, with a further 0.53 million tonnes, or 17%, being attributable to the commercial sector.

The extent of waste from these sectors which is consigned to landfill reflects low rates of waste recovery. The recovery rate for the municipal waste sector as a whole, although rising, is only 13.3%. Within that category, the recovery rate for the household sector is only 5.6%. These compare unfavourably with the recovery rates of other sectors. For example, the database shows over 25% recovery in surveyed industrial sectors, with some 65% recovery recorded in the construction and demolition sector.

Because of these low recovery rates, the correspondingly high volumes of waste landfilled, and the environmental difficulties associated with trying to manage mixed municipal waste, the Race Against Waste campaign focuses, in particular, on householders and small businesses. The campaign does not seek to apportion blame, rather it aims to heighten awareness in relation to the need to improve recycling rates and provide useful information on how to do this. The campaign is timed to coincide with a significant increase in the recycling infrastructure, which is now coming on stream, supported by significant resources which I have allocated from the environment fund.

The reaction to the campaign so far has been overwhelmingly positive. This is unsurprising given the findings of research carried out last year, which shows three out of four people in favour of the Government spending money on environmental campaigns. I look forward to the continued roll out of the campaign in the months ahead.

Would the Minister agree that spending €1.5 million on an advertisement showing ordinary households being responsible for a waste apocalypse is an outrageous misuse of taxpayers' funds because it is fraudulent advertising? Householders account for only15%, or one seventh, of what goes to landfill.

They do not.

I have studied this.

The figure is 40%.

Thanks to the Minister, I had four weeks of leisure to study it in the autumn.

I am glad the Deputy did so. There is always a silver lining somewhere.

According to figures from the Environmental Protection Agency, one seventh, or 15%, of what goes to landfill comes from households. In view of that, would the Minister agree that the advertising is fraudulent? Would he agree it is incredible that 955,000 tonnes of paper and glass went to landfill in 2001 from households and commercials — some 78% of the total that went to waste — all of which is recyclable? Would the Minister agree that if the investment for recycling and composting was installed in all areas, and the infrastructure was put in by the local authority, then diverting all glass, paper, plastic, aluminium and organic material would reduce at a stroke the amount going from commercials and households to landfill by 70%? Would the Minister agree that local authorities now have the power to implement by-laws requiring that this takes place? The fact that it does not and has not taken place points to an abject failure by the Government over the last seven years.

Would the Minister agree therefore that the television advertisement, Race Against Waste, is a crude propaganda attempt to cover the Government's abject failure to divert significantly from landfill and secure that diversion? It is also a crude propaganda film to attempt to justify rapidly rising bin taxes on taxpaying households, which the Minister, Deputy Cullen, is trying disgustingly to force on households, while giving the real polluters — big business — massive tax breaks.

I am glad to see that, perhaps for the first time, the Deputy has informed himself about the facts and figures of recycling. I am glad also that he is so supportive in encouraging everybody to take the recycling route.

I have been doing so for 20 years.

I reject absolutely the Deputy's first point regarding the use of the environment fund. When he asked about 18 months ago why I was not conducting a national awareness campaign, I said it was a good idea and something the public wanted. Of course, when I embark on the campaign, the Deputy is dissatisfied.

Yes, because it is a fraud.

For the Deputy's information, what the campaign contains was not my decision. We went out and asked the public what they thought would get the message over. In various parts of Dublin and around the country, we did much research as to the type of campaign that should be run. I did not dream it up in my head. The public told me what they thought should be in the campaign, what they would respond to and what they thought would get people to change their ways. What is happening is a result. This is only a small part of the campaign, which also concerns what is going on in the commercial sector.

It may come as a surprise to the Deputy to know that 20,000 people have used the Department's website — I understand they are called hits — seeking hard information on how to recycle more waste. Some 11,000 of those hits were in January 2004. If the Deputy accessed the website he would see that people anywhere in the country can find where their local waste facilities are and how to use them. The public welcomes all of this and I am glad the Deputy supports it.

Will the Minister acknowledge that the problem is not the willingness of the vast majority of people to recycle, but the lack of an infrastructure being rolled out by local authorities? How does the Minister respond to the fact that local authorities can now implement by-laws so that not a single piece of glass or paper should go into general waste?

We must proceed to the next question.

Look at this polystyrene tray for some sausages. It is from a supermarket next door to Leinster House.

I am solving that one for the Deputy.

Why does the Minister allow this kind of carry on?

The Deputy knows well what I am doing about that.

This is the real problem — a lack of will on behalf of the Government.

Deputies cannot display items in the House.

I wish to respond briefly to the Deputy, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

We will proceed to the next question.

It is a polystyrene tray for a few sausages.

I know. There are health and food safety issues but the Deputy would ignore those directives. The problem is that people like Deputy Joe Higgins think Ireland is one big carpet and that we can lift the green fields and sweep all the rubbish underneath.

The Minister wants to make it one big car park.

That is his policy. It is not mine and neither is it that of the Government. It is not what the people of this country want.

We will proceed to Question No. 140. As Deputy Gilmore has come into the Chamber, his Question No. 138 will be taken as the last one during Priority Question time.

Tax Code.

Ceisteanna (10)

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

140 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position regarding the introduction of electronic voting for the European and local elections. [2846/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (79 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Detailed planning and preparations for the use of countrywide electronic voting and counting at the European and local elections are proceeding. To date, 4,840 voting machines and ancillary hardware have been delivered to returning officers; software testing will be completed shortly; training of returning officers and their staff is continuing and I will be launching a major public education and awareness campaign in relation to the new system tomorrow.

The delivery of electronic voting and counting presents many challenges for my Department and its partners, but I am determined to make the benefits of the electronic system available as early as possible. Electronic voting and counting will improve the efficiency, speed, accuracy and user friendliness of elections. It will also eliminate the democratic wastage associated with spoilt votes. It is a desirable modernisation of the electoral system and I look forward to its successful implementation at the June 2004 polls.

How can the Minister contemplate introducing this system without agreement from all parties in the House? How can he introduce a system that is changing fundamentally the way we run our democracy, by not introducing it through an electoral commission? How can the Minister contemplate introducing this system without key questions about the security of the system, including whether it is tamper-proof, having been answered? Why has his Department not answered the 40 major questions that have been raised regarding the system? Why has the Minister forced the motion to accept the electronic voting system through the Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, by weight of Fianna Fáil numbers? Will the Minister give details of the contract entered into by his Department with a firm involving buddies of Fianna Fáil?

I would ask the Deputy to withdraw any such implication.

I am asking the Minister——

It is an outrageous remark and impugns people who are not in the House to defend themselves.

If being called "buddies of Fianna Fáil" is accusing them, well and good.

I am asking Deputy Allen to withdraw the point he has made.

I am asking a question. Will the Minister make available——

It impugns people who are not in the House to answer for themselves. It is an outrageous allegation.

I will not withdraw it.

It is completely unfounded.

I am asking the Minister to make available the details of the contracts entered into between the PR company and his Department. Why has he not answered the questions regarding the verifiable paper audit trail and the source code of the system? Why are the questions unanswered and why is the Minister so headstrong in pushing forward this system? Will he suspend its introduction until there is all-party agreement as would happen in any decent democracy?

I regret the manner in which Fine Gael is behaving on this issue. The Deputy's party——

Are we to roll over under the jackboot tactics?

Allow the Minister to reply without interruption.

The position of the Fine Gael Party leader is that we should all vote on the Internet from our homes, but at the same time——

With proper safeguards. I am asking about safeguards.

——his Front Bench spokesperson is asking spurious questions which have been answeredad infinitum before committee.

They have not been answered. Fourteen questions remain unanswered on this.

Am I to be allowed reply to the question?

Order. Allow the Minister to reply. He is in possession.

He is telling lies.

The Deputy's bluster on this issue will not——

The Minister is not answering the question.

Order, please. This is a priority question.

We have already tested this system in a general election and a referendum. Fine Gael raised no questions after either occasion about the system, and neither did the Labour Party at the time.

We did. That is incorrect. That is not true.

Would the Deputy like to know what Fine Gael said about it?

I know what it said.

Would he like me to quote back to him what his party said at the time?

Another history lesson.

Deputy Hayes said that the current system was imperfect, Deputy Clune said that she welcomed the introduction of the new system——

What about today? What about the future?

Deputy Dukes said the electronic counting of votes would greatly facilitate——

The Minister should quit the waffle and answer the question.

The question has been more than answered. This system——

The Minister should answer it.

The Minister is not a fit person to answer the question. He has a vested interest.

In what? What is the Deputy's point now?

Order, please. Time is running out on this question.

The Minister asked what my point was. I will explain it to him.

The Deputy is full of it.

The Minister is the political head of the Department introducing the system, but it should have been introduced by an independent electoral commission established with the consent of all parties in the Dáil——

The Dáil and the Oireachtas decided on this, not I.

——as would happen in any democracy.

It was also fully supported by the Fine Gael Party.

That is not true. The Minister forced it through.

Order, the Minister is still in possession.

The Deputy knows well that these machines have been tested internationally in Germany——

In Florida.

——the Netherlands and other places by independent institutes of international renown——

That is not true.

The Deputy knows this. I am puzzled by Fine Gael's approach to this matter. Perhaps the Deputy will be interested to note that, in the previous local elections, 21,000 votes were declared spoiled. At the same time more than 40 seats——

What has that got to do with it?

——were decided by fewer than 50 votes. My point is that more than 90% of spoiled votes are inadvertently spoiled. We will be able to eliminate this from the new system, thereby giving a far more accurate result and providing what people want.

Will the Minister answer the question asked?

About what?

About a verifiable audit trail and the code source.

I assure the Deputy again that there is a full, verifiable audit trail.

There is not.

Will there be a paper audit trail?

There is none.

Does the Deputy want the information?

We should have had it by now.

Is he interested in listening to the sound of his own voice or does he want information? There is a full audit trail. In the event of any of these results being challenged in the High Court, a full ballot paper, vote by vote, can be produced. We are covered by all angles and possibilities. This is one of the best systems available. I can only go on the best national and international advice about the veracity of the system. It is time we put this argument behind us. I have listened to the criticism and have appeared before a committee of the Houses on a number of occasions and answered questions, as have the experts and my officials.

We have reached a point where we either question the credibility of the entire computer systems in use in the world or we put our confidence in them. It is ironic that we are proud to portray Ireland as a leading software exporter but Deputies demonstrate no faith in a system which is part and parcel of demonstrating to the world that e-commerce, e-Government and technology mean something here. Deputies cannot have it both ways.

Deputy Allen may ask a brief supplementary question.

Will the Minister introduce a verifiable paper audit trail so that a person who punches a preference on a machine can be satisfied that his or her express wish is translated into the registering of a vote within the machine? Also, has the Minister managed to negotiate the acquisition of the source code from the Dutch or Belgian company which produces the machines or does control of the system still rest in the foreign private sector?

Under the old system, a person put a paper vote in a box and did not get a receipt. A voter will not get a receipt this time either. That has never been part of our electoral system.

Nobody is asking for a receipt.

There is an audit trail. The Deputy knows the system has a paper audit trail. People can see on the machine that their vote is cast. The Deputy is well aware there are internal systems in the machine. The machine even has the capacity, if it is not working properly, to rectify itself.

Will there be a printout?

There will not be a printout. We will not put people walking out of a polling station under duress to produce to the Deputy, Sinn Féin or anybody else evidence of how they voted. Is the Deputy serious?

I am serious.

Order, please. The Chair calls the next question.

National Monuments.

Ceisteanna (11)

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

141 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the involvement the Government has with EURATOM; the contributions made by Irish taxpayers to EURATOM since Ireland joined the EU; the efforts made to internalise nuclear safety measures into the body of EU law and phase out EURATOM as an unaccountable pro-nuclear arm of the EU; and his plans to bring about real change in this regard during the Irish Presidency. [3167/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Ireland is a party to the EU treaty and, in accordance with this, pays its contribution to the EU budget. EURATOM is financed directly from the general EU budget, but there is no separate contribution from Ireland towards the budget of EURATOM.

This Government's policy is to steer EURATOM's activities towards nuclear safety and radiological protection. EURATOM has been active in both of these areas. For example, EURATOM Directive 96/29, which lays down basic safety standards for the protection of workers and members of the public from the dangers of ionising radiation, represents major EURATOM inspired legislation in the area of radiological protection. In addition, EURATOM has become a contracting party to the additional protocol to the 1977 agreement between EURATOM and the International Atomic Energy Agency on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Proposals by the European Commission relating to the safety of nuclear installations and the safe management of radioactive waste, the so-called nuclear safety package, are also based on provisions of EURATOM. These are under consideration at the European Council's atomic questions working group.

The Government will continue to work through the various EURATOM groups to ensure, in as far as the treaty allows, that EURATOM's focus is on nuclear safety rather than nuclear promotion. There is no current review of EURATOM, but any such proposals will be considered on their merits, and Ireland will participate fully in such circumstances.

The Minister's reply on this matter is even more pessimistic than the reply I received from the Taoiseach. Does the Minister accept that EURATOM, which was established in 1957 and is very much pro-nuclear and the expansion of the nuclear industry, lacks democratic control? It was established before the European Parliament and yet it spends money that is not adequately accounted for — some of it in Ireland — on research projects which are not scrutinised. I know from people doing research that they feel their projects are unsupervised. Some projects, for example, have funding of €5 million.

Is it not time, especially during our EU Presidency, to push for a complete review of EURATOM so that the functions for nuclear safety will become part of the EU body of law and EURATOM, as a standalone company which will spend €2 billion over the next four years on nuclear research, is wound down and a sunset clause inserted? Does the Minister not support that approach along with Austria and Luxembourg? Is it not important that we use our opportunity during the Presidency to push for this so that it happens? There are vested interests that will resist it. However, most of the EU is non-nuclear in terms of not having nuclear power. Surely, we should use that majority position to push for the ending of EURATOM and the internalising of safety so that we can have a future that is not pro-nuclear but fair to renewable energy sources?

Ireland's position on nuclear power, the Government's opposition to it and my views are well documented in the public domain. There is not unanimity in Europe on this issue because some countries are nuclear and support the development of the industry. We do not.

What is important is the nuclear safety package which is currently under discussion and about which there are differing views. As President of the EU, Ireland is seeking to establish a sound consensus on the package to facilitate its adoption at the earliest possible opportunity. As Members know, there was little formal debate on the matter during the constitutional discussions. While Austria tabled a proposal which Ireland formally supported, the measure was not met with universal support. We will continue at all levels to use our influence as a sovereign state on these matters. During the Irish Presidency, we hope to move the agenda forward and to secure agreement on substantive issues such as the safety package.

I appreciate that there is a lack of consensus, as the Minister points out. We would not put this question down otherwise. If there were consensus, there would have been movement. Does the Minister agree that he is in a key and timely position as President of the Council of Environment Ministers to pursue a review of the EURATOM Treaty to end an obsolete feature of EU life? Austria, Luxembourg and many other member states would appreciate it. There is a separate organisation to promote one type of energy which most of us in the EU do not want to see continued and certainly not promoted. Does the Minister not think this is an opportunity to harness the majority position and as chair and President of the Council, to pursue a review? The time will not come around again.

I am not asking the Minister to accept there is a lack of consensus. We know that to be the case. I ask that he use the arguments that EURATOM is unaccountable, in receipt of disproportionate amounts of research money which other energy sources cannot draw down and endangering future generations through the legacy of nuclear energy production. Does the Minister not agree that he should make these arguments through the opportunities afforded to him over the next six months?

I do not agree with all the assertions the Deputy has made in the absolutist terms in which he has framed them with regard to EURATOM. While there are issues and questions which we should pursue, it is not open to me to turn round the agenda during the Irish Presidency. The agenda for the Presidency is well documented and publicised. The best thing the Irish Presidency can do is deal with what is on the agenda, not spend six months trying to get something else onto it. We would not be successful in that because it is not flagged that we should do so. It would be disingenuous and wrong of me to do that having had many discussions with many environment Ministers before the Presidency began to obtain clear agreement on the agenda of the Irish Presidency.

What is before us of unquestionable importance is the first step in a longer process in which some of the issues to which the Deputy alluded should be focused upon. We must start somewhere and before us is the important issue of the nuclear safety package. The lack of consensus means it will be very difficult to address the findings of the atomic questions working group which is where the matter is being considered at the moment. If we make progress on this issue during our Presidency, that is well and good. If we cannot make progress, we will continue to pursue the matter unilaterally as a sovereign Government in every possible national and international forum.

EU Presidency.

Ceisteanna (13, 14)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

142 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position regarding his request to the British authorities to allow Irish experts to inspect the Sellafield nuclear plant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2886/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

197 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the concern expressed by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland that it has become more difficult to obtain information on Sellafield from the British authorities since 11 September 2001; if he has raised those concerns with the British Government; the response received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2888/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (14 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 142 and 197 together.

Access to Sellafield by Irish experts has been sought by the Irish Government on an ongoing basis and in February 2000 staff of the RPII received permission for a formal visit to the site. Based on its examination of the safety documentation, in December 2000 the RPII produced a report on the storage of liquid high-level radioactive waste at Sellafield. That set out a number of conclusions and recommendations for BNFL and its regulators. The report is freely available from the RPII.

I understand that the concerns expressed by the RPII relate to the difficulty posed in accessing certain information from the UK authorities regarding Sellafield in the security climate after the attacks of 11 September 2001. A review of security, including access to information, was undertaken by the UK authorities in the aftermath of 11 September regarding sensitive nuclear sites, including Sellafield. That review was welcomed by the Government and considered necessary, given the threat posed by a malicious attack on or accident at Sellafield. It is neither the intention nor in the interests of the Government or its citizens to compromise in any way security arrangements at Sellafield.

However, the current UK policy of restricting access to certain information and to the Sellafield site for RPII on security or other grounds should be balanced against the increased need for assurance after the attacks of 11 September 2001. I firmly believe that the genuine interests and concerns of the Government on behalf of the Irish people must be addressed and a mutually acceptable balance achieved between the reasonable national security requirements of the UK and equally reasonable requirements of Ireland. I consider that the model of the previous visit by RPII to Sellafield in 2000 provides an appropriate basis on which further visits could be accommodated.

The views of the UK on the security issue were set out in a letter from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt MP, on 16 April 2003 in response to my letter of 28 March 2003. I placed the UK letter on the record of the House as part of the reply to Question No. 141 of 14 May 2003. The question of access for the RPII to Sellafield was raised by me at a meeting with the former UK Energy Minister, Brian Wilson, on 28 May 2003. It was also raised by me and by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, in meetings with several UK Ministers.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

It is also one of several issues that have been raised in the context of discussions with the UK following the provisional measures award of the UNCLOS Annex VII Tribunal of 24 June 2003. Those discussions are confidential to the tribunal and the parties pending outcomes to the process. However, under the terms of the order, there is an obligation on both parties to improve co-operation and co-ordination arrangements, and discussions are continuing on that basis.

Plutonium in children's teeth is double the normal level in the area around Sellafield, according to the British Minister for Health. There is a leaking roof on a storage tank in Sellafield and a strike took place among workers at the plant which put it at risk. Waste pipes from the facility have recently been washed up on the shore and more are missing. A new storage facility for additional nuclear waste at the plant forms an international nuclear dump. There is also the ongoing immediate threat to Ireland of the storage of highly active liquid waste. The classification of that waste, which we were regularly promised, has proceeded at a snail's pace. The sea and air are polluted daily for profit rather than out of need.

Given that we know all that, apart from a legal action taken to a tribunal with no competence in the matter, which ended with the Government being taken to the European Court of Justice by the Commission for so doing, meaning that it has effectively run into the sand, and an occasional press release from the Minister's spin doctors on the matter, we have no other information. Will the Minister tell the House what exactly he is doing to achieve the Government's much-trumpeted objective of closing down Sellafield? He has been two years in his present post, more or less, and we do not seem to have advanced, except for the promised legal action, which has run into the ground.

I do not accept that. There is, and has been, fairly strong consensus in this House. As a former Minister with some responsibility in the area, the Deputy knows the difficulties first hand. However, we have advanced matters quite far under two cases, OSPAR and UNCLOS — the Deputy referred only to one. The situation regarding the European Court of Justice and the Commission believing that it had primacy of jurisdiction in the case remains to be resolved. However, I reiterate that it is important in the view of everyone in the House that the RPII gains access to Sellafield. I and, I am sure, all parties in this House feel very strongly about that.

It would help enormously in confidence-building between our two countries if that happened. It must be possible for two countries which have repeatedly demonstrated their abilities in many other more difficult areas to reach some understanding on the issue. I explained the critical nature of the issue and the necessity that the UK deliver on it. The cases to which the Deputy referred are not yet completed. They represented a substantial step forward, which was fully supported by the Government. I thank the Attorney General for the enormous time which he gave to move forward the issue. Ultimately, the closure of Sellafield is a clear objective.

In the meantime, I would like to see the moratorium on the technetium 99 discharges finalised so that there are no discharges into the Irish Sea. I have made it clear publicly that I see no moral, economic, environmental or other justification for any discharges whatsoever into the Irish Sea since, once the discharges enter the environment, the damage is done for hundreds of years. The waste could and should be stored in underground facilities from which it could be retrieved so that when technology develops to the point where it can deal with such issues, at least we can do that.

Before I call Deputy Allen, I remind the House that supplementary questions and answers are subject to a one-minute time limit.

I will deal specifically with the question on the Order Paper. I asked a question on the lock-up policy of the British Government regarding our nuclear experts from the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland and suggested that, at prime ministerial level, Mr. Blair might give the Taoiseach details of the security systems in place in Sellafield to assure us that there is no risk in the event of a hijack attack on it. What approaches have been made to the British Government on a prime ministerial level regarding the details and assurances on the security of Sellafield? What has happened since our last series of questions in the Dáil? Has anything happened and are we content, as we were before the last general election, simply to flood the British Government with postcards? As far as I am concerned, that is all that has happened.

May I have specific information on what approaches have been made? When I visited the plant in July I was assured by British Nuclear Fuels Limited that if the approaches were made on a Prime Minister to Prime Minister basis, it was sure the details would be supplied. I trust the Taoiseach in that if he got the information, he would judge it accordingly.

The Deputy knows this is an issue in which the Taoiseach engages in a fulsome way and which is always on his agenda. I think he has confirmed to the House that he raised this matter with the British Prime Minister. I do not have the details but I am confident he has confirmed it to the House.

May we have the details?

Following the cases, serious discussions are going on as to how we implement and improve substantially the relationship between Ireland and the UK covering the full range of issues which the Deputy, Deputy Stagg, others and I have raised. However, these are not complete. I am anxious for them to be completed and when they are, I will give a full account to the House as to what the position shall be, but I am not in a position to do so now. I assure the Deputy that substantial discussions are taking place.

When the Minister took office, highly dangerous radioactive material was stored in rusty sheds in the Sellafield complex and that material is still stored in rusty sheds. When was the last time the Minister discussed the issue of Sellafield with his UK counterpart?

I did so just before Christmas, less than two months ago. I raised it in my pre-Presidency discussions with Minister Beckett. The Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, was with me and we went on to meet the Minister for Energy on the same occasion. We had lengthy meetings on various subjects and I raised this with them. As I said to Deputy Allen, negotiations and discussions are taking place and we are trying to get through some of the issues with the UK Government which, I think, understands the Government's position. It is important as we have a duty of care and a responsibility to the people on this issue. I am anxious we come to a formalised arrangement in regard to the exchange of information on, and access to, the Sellafield site.

Arising from what he said, will the Minister state the prospects of the British authorities agreeing to the Radiological Protection Institution of Ireland being allowed to effectively and meaningfully visit the facility at Sellafield? When does he expect that might happen?

As the Deputy knows, the RPII visited the site previously. When we talk about the site, one of the issues is that it is a vast site. The issue is perhaps more important than simply getting on to the site. I hope we can resolve this issue and see a further visit in the near future, but I am guarded in what I say for specific reasons, which the Deputy may appreciate, as I follow up on the cases. Discussions are taking place and I do not want to say anything that might, in any way, undermine them. I reconfirm that the British Government is in no doubt as to the position of the Government and with what it would be satisfied.

Is the Minister aware of the seriousness of this threat? Only last week in a court in Cumbria, British Nuclear Fuels Limited was fined £30,000 sterling when it was found guilty of and admitted to endangering the life of one of its divers. Is the Minister aware that the health and safety executive in Britain advised that court that the British Nuclear Fuels Limited systems were wholly inadequate? Given that British Nuclear Fuels cares so little about the lives of its workers, does the Minister expect it to have any greater concern for the lives of or the threat represented to Irish people as a result of its operations?

Is the Minister aware that today British Nuclear Fuels Limited has again been outed? The Department of Trade and Industry in Britain engaged a consultancy firm to carry out an audit on BNFL but there was a conflict of interest because it regularly does consultancy work for BNFL. Given that wanton level of disregard by BNFL, it would have no concern for the safety of the people.

I reiterate that the Government remains committed to and is deeply concerned about the activities at Sellafield, as it always has been. The Government will use every avenue open to it, legal and otherwise, to ensure it gets the message home to the British Government and, ultimately, to achieve its objective which many people in Ireland and elsewhere would like to see, that is, the closure of Sellafield.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ceisteanna (143)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

272 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Finance if consideration can be given to moving offices of a Government service to Tallaght; if he will appreciate the huge interest in the region in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2806/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

I do not consider that the transfer of public service jobs to any County Dublin location could be regarded as decentralisation.

Flood Relief.

Ceisteanna (144)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

273 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that some householders who were flooded in November 2002 when the Tolka broke its banks, have been unable to secure insurance cover in respect of storm damage and flooding; if he will make arrangements to send members of the public the engineering assessment of the works needed and those undertaken to date, which would provide important information to insurers being asked to restore cover; if he will intervene directly with the insurance companies to protect, in so far as is possible, the interests of those who are so severely affected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2807/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

The final report of the river Tolka flooding study was published by Dublin City Council in December 2003 and details the measures required to protect homeowners against flooding along the river. The report is available on the Dublin City Council website and is also available to view in the Drumcondra library. Copies of the report in CD-ROM format are also available from Dublin City Council.

As the Deputy is aware an initial phase of works contained in the report has already been completed by the Office of Public Works on behalf of Dublin City Council. The OPW and the city council are committed to carrying out the next phase of works in the current year and discussions are ongoing to agree the detail and timing.

Although I am not in a position to instruct insurance companies directly in this matter, I have met with the Irish Insurance Federation, IIF, as part of the review I initiated on national flood policy in November 2002. I indicated that the State would play its part in flood risk reduction and that, in turn, the insurance industry would be expected to act in a responsible manner. At my invitation the IIF made a submission to the policy review group and subsequently met with OPW officials. This meeting clarified aspects of their submission and provided an opportunity for the IIF to be briefed on the State's overall strategy on flood management.

One of the key components of this strategy is the development of "flood maps". These provide valuable information to assist in numerous decision-making processes, such as, planning and development, flood works prioritisation, assessment of risk. In this regard, I confirm that the OPW has commenced work on a flood mapping programme, the first phase of which will be completed in 2005. I am confident that the increased availability of risk information arising from the production of maps, together with the implementation of a more strategic approach to flood management will reduce exposure to risk and provide a more accurate basis upon which insurance companies formulate their decisions relating to potential flood damage in the future.

The report of the review group has been circulated to all Departments for consideration before being submitted to Government. Subject to Government approval, I hope to publish the report in the very near future.

Civil Service Appointments.

Ceisteanna (145)

M. J. Nolan

Ceist:

274 Mr. Nolan asked the Minister for Finance the reason a person (details supplied) was notified by the Civil Service Commission of their success having attended for interview for a position with the Revenue Commissioners, to have written confirmation subsequently withdrawn; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2825/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

The candidate in question competed in an interview for the position of clerical officer on 21 October 2003. The interview was for clerical officer positions within the Civil Service. This person failed to reach the qualifying standard.

However, on 5 November 2003 the candidate was incorrectly advised by letter that the required standard had been reached at the interview and that the Office of the Civil Service Commissioners would be in touch again when a vacancy arose. On 7 November 2003, a second letter was issued conveying the correct result.

The error came to light when the candidate contacted the Office of the Civil Service Commissioners to discuss the fact that two conflicting items of correspondence regarding the interview had been received.

The manager of the clerical recruitment unit in the Office of the Civil Service Commissioners spoke to the candidate to clarify the position. An apology was given and an offer was made to meet with the candidate to discuss the matter, which the candidate declined.

The Civil Service Commissioners under the Civil Service Commissioners Act 1956 cannot appoint a person unless that person reaches the qualifying standard in a competition run by them for a post in the Civil Service. In this case, as the candidate in question did not meet the qualifying standard, the commissioners could not make an offer of appointment.

The commissioners regret the unfortunate error and any embarrassment that may have occurred and they will continue to monitor the outcome of competition procedures on an ongoing basis.

Motor Fuels.

Ceisteanna (146)

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

275 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Finance the gains he hopes to achieve on an annual basis from the 5 cent increase on a litre of diesel and petrol; if any of that money is earmarked for road improvements and road safety measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2838/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the extra revenue that could be expected following my budget increase of 5 cent, VAT inclusive, per litre on diesel and petrol, is expected to be in the region of €89 million for petrol, and €95 million for diesel. Revenue from such excise duties forms part of Government revenue which funds public services generally.

Tax Collection.

Ceisteanna (147)

Pat Carey

Ceist:

276 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Finance if the amount of tax rebate in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11 is correct; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3040/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the initial refund of €698.62 which issued on 27 January 2004 was in respect of tax paid on the taxpayer's salary from 1 January 2003 to 14 February 2003 only. The Revenue Commissioners informed me that they have now processed a further refund in respect of the tax deducted from the lump sum payment received from his former employer. A cheque for €5,746.93 will issue shortly.

Flood Relief.

Ceisteanna (148)

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

277 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Finance if he will allocate funds in 2004 under the arterial drainage scheme to alleviate flooding at Piltown County Kilkenny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3041/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

It is no longer Government policy to carry out arterial drainage schemes. At the request of Kilkenny County Council, the OPW has agreed to carry out a pre-feasibility study to assess the potential for localised flood relief works in Piltown. No decision can be taken on further action until the results of this study are available. The study will commence later this year and is expected to be completed by mid-2005.

Tax Code.

Ceisteanna (149)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

278 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the reason he has decided to include medical check-ups in the category of items attracting full PAYE and PRSI benefit-in-kind tax; and if he will consider treating them as exempt in the same category as education courses or pension contributions made by an employer due to the fact that they each have similar significant public benefit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3052/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

The cost of providing medical check-ups which employees are required to undergo by their employer is not regarded as a taxable benefit and is not liable to PAYE or PRSI. However, routine medical check-ups, paid for but not required by the employer, are treated as giving a rise to a taxable benefit and I have no plans to change this position.

Refunds of educational course or exam fees to an employee which have been paid by the employee, or direct payments of educational course or exam fees by the employer, are not treated as giving rise to a taxable benefit in certain circumstances only, that is, where the course undertaken is relevant to the business of the employer.

Likewise, certain pension contributions paid by an employer in respect of an employee do not give rise to a taxable benefit provided the contributions are made to Revenue-approved superannuation schemes.

Departmental Offices.

Ceisteanna (150)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

279 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Finance his policy in respect of provision of local, nutritious food in the canteens and restaurants in the Department; the percentage of the purchased provisions which are produced locally; the percentage which is imported; the percentage of the food on sale which is fast food; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3065/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

While it is a matter of personal preference and individual choice, I would encourage people to eat healthy and nutritious food. My Department, as part of its health and well-being awareness programme, advises and encourages staff in regard to healthy eating.

Cafeteria services in the Department are provided by a private catering firm. The range, quality and sourcing of the food provided is a matter for the catering firm taking account of its customers' tastes and demands.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ceisteanna (151)

Jack Wall

Ceist:

280 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance the consideration given to decentralising the Department of Defence to Kildare town, to optimise the true potential of the Magee Barracks site given that Kildare County Council rezoned land for housing in Kildare town in their recent development plan for the town to meet the needs for housing in the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3128/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

As indicated on page B25 of budget 2004, the Defence Forces headquarters are to move to the Curragh and the headquarters of the Department of Defence will be located in nearby Newbridge.

Tax Code.

Ceisteanna (152, 153)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

281 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons that have benefited from the taxation allowance for professional sports people; the sports they represent; the cost of such relief for 2002, and 2003; and the highest relief and the average relief granted in each year. [3130/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

In Finance Act 2002, I introduced a new scheme of relief which provides that qualifying sportspersons, whether in a professional or semi-professional capacity, are entitled, on retirement, to an annual deduction from earnings from direct participation in their particular sport of the order of 40% for up to ten years of assessment back to and including the tax year 1990-91 provided the sports person was resident in the State in these years. Eligible income under the scheme arises from direct participation in the sport and does not include income accruing from sponsorship, advertising or endorsements. The relief can be claimed in the year in which the sportsperson ceases to be permanently engaged in that sport, provided the individual is resident for tax in that year, and will be provided by way of repayment of tax.

The categories of sportspersons that can avail of this relief are listed in Schedule 23A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 which provided higher contribution limits for retirement annuity purposes. These categories are an athlete, badminton player, boxer, cyclist, footballer, golfer, jockey, motor racing driver, rugby player, squash player, swimmer and tennis player. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that statistics are not available which would enable the information requested by the Deputy to be provided since this scheme was introduced relatively recently.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

282 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the proposals he has to introduce special tax allowances for elite amateur sports persons, as defined by the Irish Sports Council similar to the relief introduced for professional sports people. [3131/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

As the Deputy will appreciate, it is not normal procedure for the Minister for Finance to comment on proposals or measures which may or may not be included in a forthcoming Finance Bill in the period immediately preceding its publication.

Pension Provisions.

Ceisteanna (154)

Niall Blaney

Ceist:

283 Mr. Blaney asked the Minister for Finance if a person (details supplied) will be considered as a new entrant in relation to the changes in teacher pensions announced in the budget for 2004, therefore affected by the new measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3170/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

As the Deputy may be aware, I intend to introduce legislation in the House shortly to give effect to the public service pension reforms announced in budget 2004. This legislation is being drafted by the parliamentary counsel. It would not be appropriate, at this time, to comment on individual cases which may or may not fall within the ambit of the legislation. I can assure the Deputy, however, that a fair and equitable definition of "new entrant" will be used in implementing the new pension arrangements.

Departmental Travel.

Ceisteanna (155)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

284 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Finance the amount his Department paid out in 2003 for car mileage expenses; and the separate amount paid to cover rail or bus ticket expenses. [3175/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

The amount paid out from my Department's Vote in 2003 in respect of car mileage expenses was €94,945.01. The amount paid out in the period 1 May to 31 December 2003 in respect of rail and bus ticket expenses was €3,507.36. In the time available, it would not be possible to provide the detailed rail and bus ticket expenses figure for the first four months of 2003, because this information is held on an older accounts system and an extensive manual exercise would be required to extract it. However, it would be reasonable to assume that the pattern of expenditure for the first four months of 2003 was broadly similar to that during the last eight months of 2003. Using that as a base, the figure for the year 2003 would be about €5,300. If the Deputy wishes to have the detailed calculations made he can communicate directly with my Department and the necessary work will be undertaken as soon as possible.

Statutory Instruments.

Ceisteanna (156)

John Bruton

Ceist:

285 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will undertake a study of all orders made by him that could now be considered to be potentially in breach of Article 25 of the Constitution in view of the judgment of the High Court that the Aliens Order was unconstitutional due to the fact that it constituted an attempt to determine by secondary legislation a matter that ought to have been determined by the Oireachtas itself; if he intends to undertake the introduction of any legislation to remove the constitutional infirmity of any existing orders in view of this judgment; and if not, the reason therefor. [2733/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

This matter is being dealt with by the Attorney General and his office, who are currently examining the legal issues arising from the judgment of the High Court concerning the unconstitutionality of the Aliens Order and section 2 of the Immigration Act, 1999, which section sought to give the Aliens Order statutory effect as if it was an Act of the Oireachtas. The appropriate procedures to be adopted in relation to all orders will depend upon the advice of the Attorney General.

Passport Controls.

Ceisteanna (157)

Barry Andrews

Ceist:

286 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the significance for Irish passport holders travelling to the US of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act 2002; and if, after 26 October 2004, passports will be required to contain biometric identifiers. [2769/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

Ireland is one of 27 countries that participate in the US visa waiver programme, which enables citizens of those countries to travel to the US for up to 90 days without a visa for business or tourist purposes. The US enhanced border security act, enacted after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, requires each country that participates in the visa waiver programme to introduce, or have in place a programme to introduce, passports containing biometric information by 26 October 2004. Otherwise, citizens of these countries will have to obtain a visa for travel to the US. This will only apply to passports issued on or after 26 October 2004; holders of passports issued before that date will continue to be able to enter the US under the visa waiver programme without a visa, provided their passports are machine-readable and the personal information is printed and not hand-written. All Irish passports issued in Dublin, Cork and London are machine-readable.

In view of the numbers of Irish travellers to the US and the importance of our economic and wider relationships with that country, the Government believes it is highly desirable that Ireland remain a participant in the visa waiver programme. The Government also believes that the incorporation of biometric information in passports will give greater security of identity to individual passport holders which will increase the safety of air travel. This is recognised at EU level also. The European Council in Brussels on 12 December 2003 invited the European Commission to submit in due time a proposal for the introduction of biometric identifiers in passports.

Accordingly, the Government has decided in principle that Ireland should introduce passports containing biometric information subject to further consideration of the practical and other requirements for doing so. My Department will shortly commission a feasibility study to investigate the technical, legal, data protection and other issues related to biometric passports. In the light of that study, the Government will make a final decision on the arrangements for the introduction of biometric passports. I intend to complete this work in time to enable Ireland to comply with the requirements of the US enhanced border security act.

My Department is currently developing a new Irish passport which will be introduced later this year. This is part of the modernisation of the passport issuing system designed to improve the overall passport service to the public and to ensure that Irish passports continue to adhere to the highest international security standards. The new passport will contain a polycarbonate — plastic — data page which will be capable of incorporating a microchip on which biometric data characteristics such as the shape of a person's face or their fingerprints can be inserted.

Ministerial Meetings.

Ceisteanna (158)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

287 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his recent visit to South Africa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2778/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

I visited South Africa from 21-23 November 2003. As well as the political meetings undertaken, I visited some of Development Co-operation Ireland's projects in that country, including the township of Soweto. I saw, firsthand, the devastating impact which HIV-AIDS has on the local population there and also the great work of our development officers, NGOs and missionaries.

On 22 November, Foreign Minister, Ms Zuma, hosted a working dinner at her residence for the Irish delegation. Our discussions covered bilateral relations with South Africa, EU-Africa dialogue, Zimbabwe, UN reform, the WTO and the Middle East. It was a productive meeting, in which I outlined our intention, as EU Presidency, to work in partnership with African governments, including South Africa, to push African issues up the EU agenda. Our overarching aim would be to work together with our African partners to enhance Africa's capacity to deal with the issues the continent faces.

The Foreign Minister expressed her appreciation for my announcement of Ireland's €300,000 contribution to the NEPAD initiative. The House is aware that NEPAD is the new economic programme for African development, an African-owned and led initiative which is intended to achieve sustainable development in Africa in the 21st century. We also agreed to the establishment of a structured bilateral partnership agreement with South Africa to augment the relations between our two countries. Regular ministerial and official-level dialogue is envisaged and the details will be finalised in the coming months.

The following day, I met with President Mbeki and reiterated our aim to give strong support to African issues during our Presidency of the EU. We discussed South Africa's role as a successful mediator in various African conflicts, including Burundi. We agreed that effective multilateralism was a common foreign policy goal for both countries and, on behalf of the Government, I invited President Mbeki to make a state or an official visit to Ireland, at his convenience.

The formation of the African Union in 2002 shows that Africa is serious about tackling its problems in a real and cohesive manner. I was glad also to witness Ireland's aid programmes and to talk with the political leaders of the country. South Africa plays a pivotal role in the African Union and in the Southern Africa Development Community. These discussions were of the utmost importance in preparing for the EU Presidency and they have contributed to the further strengthening of our relations with this influential and important country.

EU Presidency.

Ceisteanna (159)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

288 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the plans his Department has to promote Ireland's EU Presidency with the Irish public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2799/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

Promoting the Irish Presidency of the European Union to the public is a key priority of Ireland's EU Presidency programme and forms part of a wider commitment by the Government to communicating information about the EU to the public. Since the start of the Presidency last month, the Department of Foreign Affairs has undertaken a range of initiatives to promote public awareness of developments in the European Union that will take place during Ireland's Presidency. Included in this will be the transmission on RTE 1 in January of "Europe — How are You?", a two part television series which reviewed the enlargement of the EU which will take place during Ireland's EU Presidency and the debate on the draft constitutional treaty. These programmes were supported by the Communicating Europe Initiative, CEI, which is managed by the Department, and attracted a combined audience of over half a million viewers. Over the coming weeks, videocassettes of the programmes will be distributed to post-primary schools, NGOs, the National Forum on Europe and our embassies abroad.

CEI is also supporting a new information initiative which will provide an insight into meetings and events taking place during the Irish Presidency from a citizen's perceptive. This initiative has just been launched and will provide a range of information on meetings, conferences and events taking place across Ireland during the Presidency. These reports will feature in local and regional newspapers, on local radio and on the Presidency website.

The Presidency website, which is managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs, features a range of user-friendly information on all aspects of the Presidency from details of events and meeting venues across Ireland to the latest press releases on developing issues. A specific section of the site has been dedicated to providing information about the Presidency and the EU to young people. The site also allows users to personalise web pages and receive updates on developing issues through SMS and e-mail alerts. The site also contains background information on Ireland's Presidency priorities including the IGC and enlargement, and on the EU, its history and structures.

My Department has also funded the development of an educational resource for second and third level business students — this resource uses the Presidency as a business case study. A link is also provided to the Presidency website, which means that students have access to a comprehensive and up to date information resource.

CEI is supporting a number of initiatives to promote the Presidency and the forthcoming enlargement of the EU with groups and organisations including young people and women. It is also supporting a number of local events organised by the Irish Countrywomen's Association taking place throughout Ireland focusing on the Irish Presidency and the enlargement of the European Union. An information leaflet summarising Ireland's Presidency goals and objectives will also be launched this month and will be distributed to schools, non-governmental organisations and to the wider public.

As Presidency, the Government is committed to better informing and engaging citizens in Ireland about developments in their Union. To this end, Minister of State, Deputy Roche, will chair a conference of Ministers from existing, acceding and candidate states on 7-8 April, to review existing EU information strategies and discuss how the EU might be communicated more effectively to its citizens. The Presidents of the European Commission and the European Parliament have also been invited to attend the conference. On the second day of the conference, Ministers will meet with a delegation from Ireland's National Forum on Europe to exchange views on how better to inform and engage citizens in the EU.

Over the coming months, the Department of Foreign Affairs will continue to work with other Departments in undertaking initiatives to promote greater public awareness about Ireland's Presidency of the European Union. The Department's press section will also continue to work closely with the Irish media on a daily basis to promote a greater understanding of EU and Presidency issues among the media and, by extension to the wider Irish public. The press section works in close collaboration with the Presidency press office in the Department of the Taoiseach to ensure full public awareness of the events organised across Ireland for the Irish Presidency.

Foreign Conflicts.

Ceisteanna (160)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

289 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will present an update, in the context of Ireland's Presidency of the EU, on efforts to deal with the question of Cyprus; if he will outline his contacts in the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2819/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

The United Nations plays the lead role in the search for a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus question. Recent efforts have been framed in the context of the forthcoming accession of Cyprus to the EU. The December 2003 European Council reiterated its preference for the accession of a united Cyprus to the Union on 1 May 2004. The Council urged all parties to give their strong support to the UN Secretary General's efforts and, in this context, called for an immediate resumption of the talks on the basis of his proposals. The Union reiterated its willingness to accommodate the terms of a settlement in line with the principles on which the EU is founded. Following a settlement the Union is ready to provide financial assistance for the development of the northern part of Cyprus.

In the weeks since the European Council, there have been a number of developments which have a bearing on the prospects for a comprehensive settlement. In northern Cyprus, following elections which gave an equal number of seats to parties in favour of a settlement based on the Annan plan and those opposed, a broadly pro-settlement administration has been formed under Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat, in coalition with Mr. Serdar Denktash. In Turkey, following an intensive consultation process, the national security council stated on 23 January that it had reached a consensus position in favour of negotiations taking the Annan plan as a reference and on the basis of the realities of the island. Prime Minister Erdogan discussed the situation with Secretary General Annan in Davos on 24 January and subsequently stated that Turkey supported the resumption of negotiations on the basis of the Annan plan, with a view to the approval of a settlement by referendum before 1 May.

The Government has maintained contact with the parties in recent weeks. I met yesterday in Dublin with the foreign minister of Cyprus, Mr. George Iacovou. I welcome his commitment to the resumption of negotiations on the basis of the Secretary General's proposals. I discussed the prospects for a settlement when I met the UN Secretary General in Brussels on 28 January. I assured him of the full support of the EU for his efforts. He has reiterated his view that the resumption of negotiations in the framework of his mission of good offices will only be possible if all parties demonstrate the political will to finalise a settlement on the basis of his proposals in time for the outcome to be put to separate referendums before 1 May. He has also stated that if the necessary progress is to be made in the time available, negotiations would have to be resumed.

The Government has maintained contact with the parties in recent weeks. I met yesterday in Dublin with the foreign minister of Cyprus, Mr. George Iacovou. I welcome his commitment to the resumption of negotiations on the basis of the Secretary General's proposals. I discussed the prospects for a settlement when I met the UN Secretary General in Brussels on 28 January. I assured him of the full support of the EU for his efforts. He has reiterated his view that the resumption of negotiations in the framework of his mission of good offices will only be possible if all parties demonstrate the political will to finalise a settlement on the basis of his proposals in time for the outcome to be put to separate referendums before 1 May. He has also stated that if the necessary progress is to be made in the time available, resumed negotiations would have to conclude by the end of March, to allow for the holding of simultaneous referendums on the island during April.

As Presidency, Ireland will support fully the role of the Secretary General, and the decision he must take in the period ahead on whether negotiations can resume. We will continue to encourage all parties to meet his requirements for the resumption of negotiations. If the Secretary General decides they can resume, the European Commission will play a direct role in the negotiations to ensure that, in line with the commitment given by the European Council, theacquis communautaire can accommodate the terms of a settlement. As Presidency, we will remain in close contact with the Secretary General in order to provide whatever assistance he requires to encourage a settlement in the short time available.

Departmental Offices.

Ceisteanna (161)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

290 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his policy in respect of provision of local, nutritious food in the canteens and restaurants in the Department; the percentage of the purchased provisions which are produced locally; the percentage which is imported; the percentage of the food on sale which is fast food; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3066/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

There are no restaurants, or canteens serving food, in any of the buildings used by the Department of Foreign Affairs, though facilities for preparing meals and for dining are available for staff.

Departmental Travel.

Ceisteanna (162)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

291 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the amount his Department paid out in 2003 for car mileage expenses; and the separate amount paid to cover rail or bus ticket expenses. [3176/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

Total car mileage expenses in 2002 amounted to €214,000. Rail and bus ticket costs amounted to some €47,000 for the same period. These figures relate to costs incurred both at headquarters and at all missions abroad.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ceisteanna (163)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

292 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if he has initiated consultations with officials in the Higher Education Training Awards Council regarding their willingness to transfer to the new location in Offaly; and if he will make a statement on the findings of the assessment. [2701/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

Officials of my Department have had a preliminary meeting with the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and other bodies under the aegis of my Department regarding decentralisation. The purpose of these meetings was to facilitate an exchange of information. The decentralisation policy decided by the Government and announced by the Minister for Finance on budget day 2003 provides for the transfer of some 10,300 civil servants to various locations outside of Dublin. Included in this policy is the transfer of HETAC and its staff to Edenderry, County Offaly.

It is not open to me to make an exception to this stated Government policy nor do I see any reason why this should be done. I would reiterate that the decentralisation is voluntary and that those members of HETAC staff who do not wish to transfer to the organisation's new location will not be compelled to do so. It has also been made clear that this policy will be implemented in an orderly fashion with full consultation with staff interests.

Departmental Records.

Ceisteanna (164)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

293 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Education and Science the conditions under which a person (details supplied) was given access to records of his Department; if other persons can be given access to the same records and files; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2943/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The person referred to by the Deputy has not been given access to records of my Department. In considering how access is to be granted to the records and to whom, my Department has to be mindful of key priorities at this time. High on the list of priorities is the Department's obligation to provide information and records as so ordered by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. Another priority as regards access to the records arises under the statutory obligations imposed upon the Department by the Freedom of Information Act. The records in question are also accessed within the Department on a regular basis in the context of litigation arising from past abuse and, from time to time, the Garda authorities also require access to these records as part of their investigations into past abuse.

To allow any further access to the records would inevitably lead to requests from others for similar access, and indeed the Department has already had such requests. The situation could quickly escalate to the point where the commission, the courts and Garda authorities would be hindered in their work and the Department's capacity to carry out its statutory duties in respect of freedom of information would be seriously jeopardised.

Circumstances now require that access to the records be limited for the moment to the priority purposes outlined above. This is in the interests of maintaining the records in good order; ensuring that the commission can carry out its work effectively; ensuring that people who are seeking legal redress can have access through the courts to the documents they require; and ensuring that people can exercise their statutory rights to information under the Freedom of Information Act.

Educational Projects.

Ceisteanna (165)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

294 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the work of the Catholic Secondary School Parents Association; and if he plans to make grants available to support research and administration in this organisation in order that it can play a full part as an education partner. [2682/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

Officials of my Department met representatives of the national congress of Catholic Secondary School Parent Associations, CPSA, last December. At that meeting it was agreed that CPSA would provide my Department with details of its vision for increasing the voice of parents at second level, the promotion of parents associations in schools and the level of support required to achieve those aims. My Department received a submission from CPSA in mid-January and is considering their proposals at present. Officials of my Department will be in touch in the near future with CPSA to arrange a further meeting on this issue.

In deciding on the issue of grant aiding, I must take account of the matter of value for money and the need to avoid unnecessary duplication. This is a particular concern when money is spent on research and administration. The Deputy will also be aware that a report on these matters, commissioned by my Department, emphasised the fact that many of the issues of concern to parents with children at second level are common across the different sectors. It is important, therefore, that any State funding should promote cohesion to the greatest degree possible as this will best serve to increase the voice of parents in education.

Schools Refurbishment.

Ceisteanna (166)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

295 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if he has received a report on the heating system in a school (details supplied); if he has satisfied himself that this system is capable of ensuring standards of heating as required by rules agreed with teachers and schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2683/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

A report has been received regarding the heating system in the school referred to by the Deputy. The project is being considered in the context of the summer works scheme, details of which will be announced shortly.

Special Educational Needs.

Ceisteanna (167, 168, 169)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

296 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to an application for funding to set up a CABAS school in Shankill, south Dublin; his views on this proposal; when he expects a decision on the funding application to be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2684/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

297 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the CABAS schools operating elsewhere in the State; and if he will make a statement on this system of schooling. [2685/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Gormley

Ceist:

338 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will consider the application for a CABAS school in south Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3001/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 296, 297 and 338 together.

I am most anxious that all children, including children with autistic spectrum disorders receive education appropriate to their needs. There are seven facilities in the State operating on a pilot-project basis and using alternative educational methods for teaching children on the autistic spectrum. Three of the seven are CABAS facilities, whose teaching method involves a comprehensive application of behaviour analysis to schooling approach. A decision regarding the retention of these establishments will be made in light of an evaluation of provision for children with an autistic spectrum disorder carried out by my Department's Inspectorate. It is envisaged that the outcome of the evaluation will be determined and a decision taken on the future of the facilities during the course of the current school year.

My Department is actively considering applications from CABAS, Dublin, for autistic provision in south County Dublin. My officials are liaising with my Department's inspectorate and the National Educational Psychological Service in this regard. A response will issue to the applicants as quickly as possible.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ceisteanna (170)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

298 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the nature of the commitments which he has given in the past that the offices of the Higher Education Training Awards Council would be located in Dublin; the details of the commitments he has entered into in respect of buildings to house this body in Dublin; the strategic considerations which resulted in the proposal to relocate HETAC to Edenderry, County Offaly; the details of the commitments he has made to acquire buildings in Offaly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2686/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The Higher Education and Training Awards Council was established on 11 June 2001 and was located at 26 Mountjoy Square Dublin 1 on an interim basis pending a decision on the permanent location of the council. On 9 November 2001, HETAC was notified by letter of the decision of the then Minister for Education and Science that HETAC be based in Dublin. On foot of this, HETAC moved to new premises in Denzille Lane, Dublin 2, taking out a 21 year lease with effect from 31 December 2002, with rent reviews every six years. HETAC is responsible for the costs of the lease until it expires. While all the leases of the agencies set up under the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act 1999 do not specifically provide for sub-leases to a third party, it is anticipated that this can be negotiated and will not present an insurmountable problem.

The strategic considerations governing the Government decision on decentralisation are set out in the budget statement of the Minister for Finance of 3 December 2003. The issue of accommodation in Edenderry is being handled by the Office of Public Works. It is the prerogative of Government to decide on the location of Departments and statutory agencies from time to time in the context of its overall decentralisation policy. There are no plans to make an exception to the Government policy as announced on 3 December 2003 nor do I see any reason why this should be done.

I would reiterate that the decentralisation is voluntary and that those members of HETAC staff who do not wish to transfer to the organisation's new location will not be compelled to do so. It has also been made clear that this policy will be implemented in an orderly fashion with full consultation with staff interests. These are being kept apprised of implementation plans as they are developed.

Special Educational Needs.

Ceisteanna (171)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

299 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of recommendations in the recent report of the task force for dyslexia which he has accepted; the number which he has rejected; and the timescale within which the recommendations which have been accepted will be implemented. [2687/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The report of the task force on dyslexia contains more than 60 individual recommendations ranging across a wide variety of issues from identification and assessment, to models of service delivery, specialist training for service providers, to issues relating to structural reforms. Since the task force reported, a number of initiatives have been taken in the area of dyslexia. These include the introduction of the first ever on-line training course for teachers catering for pupils with dyslexia; the appointment of ten new learning support trainers to the primary curriculum support programme specifically to provide in-depth support for the implementation of learning support guidelines for children with dyslexia; and a reduction from 11:1 to 9:1 in the pupil teacher ratio applicable to special classes catering for children with dyslexia.

In addition to the above measures, a key focus of my Department has been on advancing the fundamental structural and legislative measures, which are necessary to underpin the development and delivery of services for persons with special needs, including children with dyslexia. A key development on the structural front has been the Government's decision to approve the establishment of the National Council for Special Education. The National Council, which will have a local area presence, will play a key role in the development and delivery of services for persons with special needs, including children with dyslexia. It will have a research and advisory role and will establish expert groups to consider specific areas of special needs provision. It will also establish a consultative forum to facilitate inputs from the education partners and other interested parties. Arrangements for the establishment of the council are now well advanced. A chief executive has been appointed, the Oireachtas has approved an order establishing the council and the recruitment of council staff is in hand.

I have brought forward legislation, based on the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003, aimed at establishing the rights and entitlements of persons with special needs, including dyslexia, to an appropriate education service and providing the necessary framework for effective service delivery. My objective is to secure the passage of this legislation through the Oireachtas as quickly as possible.

Higher Education Grants.

Ceisteanna (172)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

300 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the timing of the payment of the first instalment of third level grants under the VEC administered and local authority administered schemes, indicating the number of approved grants made in September, October, November and so on; if he has carried out an assessment of the time it takes for these agencies to process an application; if he has proposals to reduce the complexity of the vetting procedure or otherwise to streamline the system, in order that applicants receive their payments in a more timely manner; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2688/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The third level maintenance grant schemes, which my Department revises annually, are administered by the local authorities and VECs. The arrangement for the payment of grants under the grant schemes are a matter for the local authorities-VECs. The terms of the higher education grants scheme and the VEC scholarships scheme for the 2003-04 academic year provide for the payment by the local authorities-VECs of each maintenance grant in three equal instalments as early as possible in each term with the individual payable orders being addressed to the grant holder c/o the bursar's office of the college.

A survey of the 66 local authorities and VECs, carried out by my Department in early November 2003, in respect of the current academic year, indicated that the vast majority of the awarding bodies had paid the first instalment of the grant, with the exception of cases where further information from applicants was awaited or where late applications had been accepted. The remaining awarding bodies made payments in respect of the first instalment of the grant in November. A breakdown of the number of grants approved each month is not available to my Department.

My Department has issued a questionnaire to each local authority and VEC requesting information on the processing of applications for the current academic year and on the outcome of the process. When all completed questionnaires are returned, my Department will be in a position to assess the extent to which there are delays, and the reasons why, in the processing of applications. I have previously indicated that, in accordance with our commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government, it is my intention to introduce a unified grant payment scheme. I also propose to put in place a more coherent administration system which will, I believe, facilitate the introduction of more sophisticated means testing arrangements and ensure consistency of application and client accessibility as suggested in the report Supporting Equity in Higher Education, which was published in August 2003 and which arose from a review undertaken, at my request, within my Department. I have asked my Department to enter into consultations in this regard. Initial discussions have taken place between officials of my Department and officials in the Department of Social and Family Affairs and I expect that consultations with representatives of the other stakeholders, such as the grant awarding bodies, will take place shortly.

School Accommodation.

Ceisteanna (173)

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

301 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science the precise status of the application for a capital grant for additional classrooms from St. Columba's College, Whitechurch, Dublin 16, which was submitted in January 2002. [2689/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

An application for capital grant aid for additional accommodation has been received from St. Columba's College, Whitechurch, Dublin 16. The application is being assessed in the school planning section of my Department. As soon as the assessment is completed, contact will be made directly with the management authority of the school with a decision in the matter.

Special Educational Needs.

Ceisteanna (174)

Pat Breen

Ceist:

302 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will provide a resource teacher for a child (details supplied) in County Clare to address the serious psychological problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2721/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

Special educational resource, SER, applications received between 15 February and 31 August 2003, are being considered at present. In all, more than 5,000 such applications were received. Priority was given to cases involving children starting school last September and all these cases were responded to at or before the commencement of the current school year. The balance of more than 4,000 applications has been reviewed by a dedicated team comprising members of my Department's inspectorate and the national educational psychological service, NEPS. These applications are being further considered in the context of the outcome of surveys of SER provision conducted over the past year or so. Account is also being taken of the data submitted by schools as part of the recent nation wide census of SER provision.

The processing of the applications is a complex and time-consuming operation. However, my Department is endeavouring to have this completed as quickly as possible and my officials will then respond to all applicant schools. Pending a response, schools are advised to refer to Circular 24/03, which issued in September 2003. This circular contains practical advice on how to achieve the most effective deployment of resources already allocated for special educational needs within the school.

Applications for special education needs supports received after 1 September 2003 will be considered as soon as the applications mentioned above have been processed. This includes the application for the pupil to whom the Deputy refers which was received in my Department on 6 October 2003.

Statutory Instruments.

Ceisteanna (175)

John Bruton

Ceist:

303 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will undertake a study of all orders made by him that could now be considered to be potentially in breach of Article 25 of the Constitution in view of the judgment of the High Court that the aliens order was unconstitutional due to the fact that it constituted an attempt to determine by secondary legislation a matter that ought to have been determined by the Oireachtas itself; if he intends to undertake the introduction of legislation to remove the constitutional infirmity of any existing orders in view of this judgment; and if not, the reason therefor. [2734/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

While I have no reason to believe that any statutory instrument made by me pursuant to primary legislation is in any way invalid I have not had an opportunity to consider the judgment of the court in this matter or consult with the Attorney General. Until I do so I cannot make a decision as to the action which should be taken in response to it. Accordingly I am not yet in a position to determine whether it will be necessary to introduce legislation for the purposes referred to in the Deputy's question.

School Staffing.

Ceisteanna (176)

Dan Neville

Ceist:

304 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Education and Science when he will give permanent staff to a school (details supplied) in County Limerick. [2753/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment ofthe school on 30 September of the previous school year. The number of mainstream posts sanctioned is determined by reference to a staffing schedule and is finalised for a particular school year following discussions with the education partners.

The only deviation from the agreed staffing arrangements is in the case of schools classified as "developing schools". The terms for obtaining a post as a "developing school" are outlined in primary Circular 9/03, a copy of which issued to the board of management of each school. In the case of such schools, an additional permanent post may be sanctioned provisionally pending the confirmation of the valid enrolment on 30 September. The enrolment in the school referred to by the Deputy was 25 pupils on 30 September 2002. This enrolment entitled the school to a permanent staffing of a principal and one mainstream class teacher for the 2003-04 school year. The enrolment required on 30 September 2003 to obtain a post as a developing school was 50. The board of management projected that enrolment figure and, on that basis, provisional sanction for an additional permanent post was given in a letter to the board of management in May 2003.

According to data submitted to my Department by the board of management, the school achieved the required enrolment of 50 pupils on 30 September 2003. As sanction has already been given to fill the post on a permanent basis, and the school fulfilled the required criteria, it is a matter for the board of management to make the appropriate appointment.

School Accommodation.

Ceisteanna (177)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

305 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in relation to extra facilities required at Scoil Bhride, Kill, County Kildare; when he expects to reach a conclusion on these matters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2754/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

My Department is considering options to address the long-term accommodation needs of Scoil Bhride, Kill, County Kildare, including the option to acquire a site for the school. In this regard, the property management section of the OPW, which acts on behalf of my Department in relation to site acquisitions generally, is exploring the possibility of acquiring a site for the school in question.

Due to the commercial sensitivities of site acquisitions, it is not proposed at this stage to identify the specific sites to be acquired. However, this information will be placed on my Department's website when the relevant acquisitions have been completed.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ceisteanna (178)

Seán Ardagh

Ceist:

306 Mr. Ardagh asked the Minister for Education and Science the way in which the employees who wish to remain in Dublin will be facilitated in relation to the decision to decentralise the offices of HETAC; and the assurance he can give that the jobs to which they will be transferred will be of the same type, status and have the same promotion prospects or career path as those they currently have. [2755/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The decentralisation policy decided by the Government and announced by the Minister for Finance on budget day 2003 provides for the transfer of some 10,300 civil servants to various locations outside of Dublin. Included in this policy is the transfer of the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, HETAC, and its staff to Edenderry, County Offaly.

It is not open to me to make an exception to this stated Government policy nor do I see any reason this should be done. I would reiterate that the decentralisation is voluntary and that those members of HETAC staff who do not wish to transfer to the organisation's new location will not be compelled to do so. It has also been made clear that this policy will be implemented in an orderly fashion with full consultation with staff interests.

Schools Recognition.

Ceisteanna (179)

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

307 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science if permanent recognition will be granted to the multi-denominational school at Collis-Sandes, Tralee, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2767/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

Tralee Educate Together national school, located at Collis-Sandes House, is operating with provisional recognition from my Department since September 2002.

An application for permanent recognition has not been received from the school authority. If such an application is received it will be given due consideration and a decision will be notified to the school authority.

Schools Building Projects.

Ceisteanna (180)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

308 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science if the additional funding available to his Department gives hope to those schools awaiting sanction for works; if he will outline the schedule he will now follow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2776/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The level of capital funding to be provided for the primary and post-primary school building programme for 2004 amounts to €387 million and in excess of €200 million of this will be targeted at primary school projects. This compares very favourably with the €342.9 million available in 2003. In addition to the 2004 school building programme, which I published last December, a further €30 million will be spent on school building this year. I intend to publish details of how the additional €30 million will be allocated tomorrow.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year. The level of funding provided for the 2004 school building programme is further evidence of the Government's consistent commitment since 1997 to education and to the modernisation of school buildings.

Physical Education Facilities.

Ceisteanna (181)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

309 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will confirm that progress can be made to provide the long awaited physical education hall at Firhouse community college in Dublin 24; and if he will outline the status of the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2777/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

I am pleased to advise the Deputy that the PE hall at Firhouse community college is one of a number of such projects that are included in the 2004 school building programme as part of a joint programme to develop community sports facilities in drugs task force areas. The tendering process for these PE halls has commenced and the school authorities will be kept advised of developments.

EU Presidency.

Ceisteanna (182)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

310 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science the plans his Department has to promote Ireland's EU Presidency with the public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2800/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

: My Department has put in place measures to help raise awareness among students of the significance of the Irish Presidency in 2004. I have put arrangements in place, in association with the national centre for technology in education, for the development and production of relevant classroom resources, which are now available through the Scoilnet website,www.scoilnet.ie/eupresidency. These resources provide up-to-date information and materials for schools on the European Union with a particular focus on the Irish EU Presidency. There is also extensive information available on the Irish Presidency website, www.eu2004ie. All primary and post-primary school pupils were also involved in the selection of Ireland's EU presidency logo, by registering their preferred option for the logo on-line.

On 7 January, I launched the education and youth presidency programme at Hartstown community school in west Dublin, together with the Ministers of State at the Department. A brochure outlining the programme has also been produced; the brochure contains information on the various meetings and conferences in the education and youth sector due to be held during the Presidency. I will ensure that appropriate publicity and dissemination measures will be put in place for each presidency event as they arise over the course of the next few months.

The Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, is in the process of conducting an information programme on the EU Presidency for post-primary schools to further promote an interest in EU affairs among young people during the Irish Presidency. The Minister intends to travel to 36 schools, at least one in each county, for the purposes of this information programme to which local public representatives will also be invited.

Schools Recognition.

Ceisteanna (183)

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

311 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Education and Science if an application has been received from Gaelscoil Chaladh an Treoigh for permanent status; if he will sanction the gaelscoil; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2809/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

An application has been received in the school planning section of my Department for permanent recognition for Gaelscoil Chaladh an Treoigh. The officials in school planning section are examining this application and they will revert to the school management authority shortly.

Schools Building Projects.

Ceisteanna (184)

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

312 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science if he has made provisions for a new school for Magh Ene college, Bundoran; if he plans to include the college in the further list of projects which are to be announced to proceed to tender and construction during 2004 at the end of January 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2832/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

In addition to the 2004 school building programme, which I published last December, a further €30 million will be spent on school building this year. I intend to publish details of how the additional €30 million will be allocated tomorrow.

Schools Refurbishment.

Ceisteanna (185)

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

313 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science when the students, staff and parents of Doochary national school, County Donegal, can expect to have their school, which is in very poor condition, upgraded. [2833/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

An application for improved accommodation at Doochary national school has been received and is being considered in the school planning section of my Department. Officials in the school planning section are currently examining this application and they will revert to the school management authority shortly.

School Staffing.

Ceisteanna (186)

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

314 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science if there is a requirement for a special needs assistant to have a particular level of Irish and the requirement that exists; if there are exemptions to this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2834/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

Special needs assistant posts are allocated by my Department where the professionally assessed needs of a child or children involved is such as to require the delivery of such support. It is then a matter for the board of management to recruit a suitable person based on certain criteria as laid down by my Department.

The minumum educational qualification required by my Department for special needs assistants is Grade D, or pass, at least, in Irish, English and mathematics in the junior certificate examination, in the day vocational certificate examination or in an examination of equivalent standard.

Circulars have issued to both primary and post-primary schools to advise them of the criteria for the appointment of special needs assistants. A copy of these circulars follows for the Deputy's information.

Circular SNA 03/03

Department of Education and Science

Payroll Division

to Boards of Management, Principals and Special Needs Assistants in Primary Schools

Appointment Procedures for Special Needs Assistants

Introduction:

Boards of Management in accordance with the guidelines hereunder are responsible for the appointment of Special Needs Assistants in primary schools. The appointment is subject to the prior approval of the Patron. The post to be filled must be within the allocation of posts approved by the Minister for Education and Science.

1. Advertising a Post of Special Needs Assistant:

A post of Special Needs Assistant must be advertised in a local newspaper. The advertisement shall invite applications from eligible persons to be submitted by a specified date to the Chairperson of the Board of Management. Subject to any exceptions permitted by the Employment Equality Act 1998, the advertisement must not indicate an intention to discriminate or contain information in any form which might reasonably be understood as indicating an intention of this kind.

2. Details that should be included in the advertisement:

i. The name and address of the school.

ii. The date of commencement of the post.

iii. That the post is for a fixed purpose.

iv. State if the post is full time or part time and the number of part time hours.

v. General description of duties, which, may be allocated to the post.

vi. The latest date for receipt of application.

vii. Specify if a curriculum vitae must be submitted with the application.

viii. That references or the names and addresses of referees are required.

3. Selection Board for Appointment of Special Needs Assistants:

The Selection Board should consist of the Chairperson of the Board of Management, the Principal of the school and another person nominated by the Board of Management. The Selection Board must include at least one male and one female.

4. Functions of the Selection Board:

The Selection Board prior to interviewing the candidates should establish in writing the criteria for assessment of applications, having regard to appropriate legislation and the requirements of the post. The Selection Board should meet within a reasonable period after the closing date for receipt of applications.

5. Applicants for Interviews:

The Selection Board may decide to limit the number of applicants called for interview. However, a minimum of three eligible applicants must be called. If less than three applicants have applied for the post, all of the eligible applicants must be invited to interview.

6. Conducting the Interviews:

i. The Selection Board must keep to the agreed criteria for the assessment of applicants.

ii. The Chairperson must keep a record of the agreed criteria and of the scoring used to assess applications and interviews.

iii. When interviewing applicants, the Selection Board must adhere to the provisions of the Employment Equality Act (1998) and the Code of Practice of the Equality Authority.

iv. Particular caution must be taken at the interview to ensure that no questions, comments or statements might be construed as discriminatory on grounds of gender or marital status or any of the nine discriminatory grounds.

7. Appointing the successful Candidate:

The Board of Management shall meet and appoint the candidate nominated by the Selection Board unless it has good and sufficient reason not to do so, in which instance the matter shall be referred to the Patron, whose decision in this matter shall be accepted by the Board. The Board of Management should retain a list of the candidates deemed suitable for appointment. This list would be effective for one school year for any appointments to posts of Special Needs Assistants.

8. Medical Certification:

The Board should obtain from the successful candidate prior to appointment a certificate of medical fitness that s/he is fit to undertake the duties of the post. A sample form is attached as Appendix B. The Board of Management should nominate the medical practitioner.

9. References and Garda Clearance:

Before notifying the successful candidate the Board of Management should check his/her references and ensure that the candidate has not been investigated in relation to substantiated complaints made concerning his/her treatment of children.

Efforts should be made with the local Gardaí to provide clearance for employees employed as Special Needs Assistants. It is important to bear in mind that the clearance process may take some time. Applicants should only be employed on a provisional basis pending the outcome of the clearing process. A Special Needs Assistant appointed on a provisional basis pending Garda clearance should be made aware that in the event that they do have convictions making them unsuitable to work with children this will be a substantial ground for dismissal without notice. A sample form for completion by the candidate is attached as Appendix A.

This circular should be retained for future reference in the school. It may also be accessed on the Department of Education & Science website atwww.education.ie under Education Personnel / Special Needs Assistants. Please note that queries regarding the Circular may be E-Mailed to sna_pay@education.gov.ie

P. Maloney,

Principal Officer.

August, 2003

Appendix A

Declaration to be completed by a Special Needs Assistant

Surname:

Forename:

PPS No.:

Date of Birth:

Place of Birth:

Any other name previously known as:

I, the undersigned, who has applied to work as a special need assistant in:

__________ School, hereby authorise the Garda Síochána, to furnish to the Chairperson a statement that there are no convictions recorded against me in the State or elsewhere which deems me unsuitable for a post that involves working with children.

Please return to the Chairperson of the Board of Management by on or before 5.00 p.m.

I confirm that nothing within my personal or professional background deems me unsuitable for a post that involves working with children.

Signed:

Date:

Appendix B

Certificate of fitness to commence employment as a Special Needs Assistant

To be completed by a Medical Practitioner nominated by the Board of Management.

Surname:

Forename:

I certify that I have examined the above named and found that s/he is fit to undertake duties as a Special Needs Assistant.

Signed:

Date:

Stamp or Seal

Special Educational Needs.

Ceisteanna (187)

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

315 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science if a report will be sought in relation to a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath who was attending a school but has not been allocated extra resource hours or access to laptop facilities even though both have been recommended for them. [2835/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

My Department allocates resource teaching support and special needs assistants support to second level schools and vocational educational committees to cater for students with special educational needs. Applications for such support are made to my Department by the relevant school authorities. Each application is considered on the basis of the assessed needs of the pupil(s) involved and the nature and level of support provided is determined on the advice of the psychological service.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the school in question has been allocated additional resource teacher support to address the needs of the student in question and a number of other students with special educational needs attending the school. The school authorities have been notified accordingly.

I understand that my Department has not received any application from the school in question in relation to the provision of computer facilities for the student to whom the Deputy refers. Any such application will be fully considered.

Schools Building Projects.

Ceisteanna (188)

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

316 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Education and Science the timescale envisaged at this time for the progression to building of a school project (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2836/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The proposed large-scale building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This proposed project is at stage 3, detailed plans-costs, of architectural planning. It has been assigned a band 2 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

The proposed project will be authorised to progress to advanced architectural planning during 2004. Indicative timescales have been included for large-scale projects proceeding to tender in 2004. The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Music Curriculum.

Ceisteanna (189, 190, 191, 192)

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

317 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Education and Science the details of the new music curriculum as it pertains to the primary school sector; the breadth of the programme and the timescale and means of delivery of the inservice supports and resource supports to the schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2837/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

332 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Education and Science the supports in place to assist primary schools to fulfil the composition aspect of the music curriculum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2929/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

333 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Education and Science the inservice support available nationally and specifically for County Donegal to assist primary teachers familiarise themselves with the new music curriculum requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2930/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

334 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will give details of the current school music programme for primary schools; when it was last reviewed; the supports given to schools to roll out the programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2931/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 317 and 332 to 334, inclusive, together.

The revised music curriculum, launched in 1999, comprises three strands: listening and responding; performing; and composing. The listening and responding strand emphasises the importance of purposeful, active listening, providing opportunities to listen to a range of familiar and unfamiliar musical pieces, focusing on a widening range of sound sources and challenging the child to respond imaginatively with increasing precision and musical sensitivity.

The performing strand dwells on the importance of using the voice. It includes songs and tunes with a wide range of notes, Irish songs and songs of different cultures, styles and traditions. The development of musical literacy will be closely linked with the song-singing programme in the early stages and will be expanded through playing simple melodic instruments. In the music curriculum, literacy is explored through its two main components, rhythm and pitch.

Opportunities to demonstrate growing confidence and understanding in making music using other music sources will be afforded in the strand unit ‘Playing instruments'. The composing strand seeks to develop the child's creativity and uniqueness, first and foremost by providing an avenue for self-expression. In the strand unit ‘Improvising and creating' the child selects and sequences material from the range of sound sources available. The child is given opportunities to evaluate the composing process and to record his or her work in the strand unit ‘Talking about and recording compositions'.

Musical activities are suggested within each strand unit that enable the child to develop an awareness of and sensitivity to the inter-related elements of music — pulse, duration, tempo, pitch, dynamics, structure, timbre, texture and style — and to grow in musical understanding. The curriculum emphasises active responses and music-making at all levels. This enables the child to gain first-hand experience of what it means to be a listener, performer and composer in the world of music.

In terms of sequence, breadth and depth, the content of the music curriculum is outlined in the curriculum guidelines. The strands and strand units offer teachers a sequenced, comprehensive programme on which to base the teaching and learning of music in the classroom. The choice of content will be determined by the previous musical experiences and needs of the children. The school plan will cover the nature and extent of music in the school, recognising the social and cultural environment, the varying needs of the children and the available resources.

A range of supports are in place to assist primary schools in fulfilling the composition aspect of the music curriculum. In addition to the detailed guidelines on composition in the curriculum handbooks, a grant totalling £6.1 million was issued to all schools in December 2000 in order to support schools in the implementation of the arts education section of the curriculum. The aim of the grant was to facilitate the purchase of necessary teaching and learning materials, for example, musical instruments, as well as activities such as inviting a composer to the school. The grant to individual schools was capitation-based and amounted to £13 per pupil. A minimum of £780 was provided for schools of 60 pupils or less.

The primary curriculum support programme was established in 1999 to provide professional development support to teachers to assist them in implementing the curriculum. The PSCP is engaged in a wide range of support activities, including organising seminars for teachers, visiting schools and providing tailored support for individual schools and clusters of schools. To date, the following aspects of the primary curriculum have been implemented and fully supported by the PCSP: English, Gaeilge, mathematics, visual arts, science and social, personal and health education.

This year, following a request from teachers' representatives, I announced a year of consolidation and review of areas of the curriculum that have already been introduced. The in-career development programme for music will therefore take place in the school year 2004-2005. All primary teachers will receive training in the new programme during that year. Teachers will begin to implement the programme during the following school year. In preparation for this roll-out, the PCSP has recruited a team and a supplementary panel of trainers for music and an assistant national co-ordinator who has particular responsibility for this team. The role of this team is to plan supports for the implementation of the music curriculum. These trainers are presently using the new methodologies in their own classrooms and sharing their experiences and expertise with the colleagues on the staff. They also work closely with the Education Centre Network in the provision of evening and summer courses. Composition is an integral component of these courses.

A six week evening course which was held for primary teachers by the Donegal Education Centre and was completed this month. Two designated trainers from the primary curriculum support programme delivered the course. Aspects of all three strands of the Music Curriculum were covered during the six week period.

Our schools have a long and proud tradition in teaching music and our national profile in the music industry greatly exceeds expectations for a country of this size. I am committed to ensuring that schools are fully supported in continuing their excellent work.

Schools Inspection Service.

Ceisteanna (193)

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Ceist:

318 Mr. Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will appoint an inspector with responsibility for schools in Athy, County Kildare, and its hinterland. [2914/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

Members of the inspectorate may be required to report to the Minister on matters related to schools or centres of education in any part of the State, either at the request of the Minister or at the initiative of the chief inspector. For administrative convenience, the Inspectorate is deployed regionally and each primary school is assigned to an inspector. When a vacancy occurs in the inspectorate, the schools concerned are normally temporarily assigned to another inspector until the vacancy is filled.

Primary schools in Athy, County Kildare, and neighbouring regions are assigned to a divisional inspector. A number of vacancies in the post-primary inspectorate resulted from transfer of a number of post-primary inspectors to the State Examination Commission. Interviews have been held for replacement of these inspectors and appointments will be made shortly. In the meantime, if an issue arises in a second level school in the Athy area that requires the attention of an inspector, the chief inspector will assign the matter to a member of the inspectorate.

Schools Building Projects.

Ceisteanna (194)

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Ceist:

319 Mr. Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the serious overcrowding that exists in Ard Scoil Rath Iomgain, Rathangan; the length of time that a school extension has been in planning; and if he will provide funding in 2004 to allow the project proceed. [2915/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The large-scale building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This project is at an advanced stage of architectural planning, detail design-bill of quantities. It has been assigned a band 2 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Pension Provisions.

Ceisteanna (195)

Máire Hoctor

Ceist:

320 Ms Hoctor asked the Minister for Education and Science if the four years of service with Bord na Móna are reckonable with the pension scheme for teachers with the Department of Education and Science (details supplied). [2916/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The position regarding service as an apprentice or tradesman with Bord na Móna is that it has not been possible to reckon such service for purposes of a pension with a vocational education committee as the pension scheme designated for tradesmen and manual workers generally in Bord na Móna, that is, the regular works employees' superannuation scheme, is not approved by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for purposes of a transfer of service under the local government transfer network.

Following the transfer of pension functions of VEC employees from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to my Department and following consultation with the Department of Finance, it has recently been agreed that VECs are to become members of the public sector transfer network.

Steps are now being taken to put this agreement into effect. When the necessary arrangements in this regard have been made, it will be possible for service given as a Bord na Móna tradesman or manual worker to be transferred to and from VECs. My Department will then notify all VECs of the position and will make direct contact with the person referred to by the Deputy.

Schools Building Projects.

Ceisteanna (196)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

321 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science the amount of funding being made available to Dysart national school, County Westmeath, for important and necessary works under the small schools — primary — capital programme; the stipulations and criteria attached to make a grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2917/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

As part of the small schools initiative my Department offered a maximum grant of €275,000 to meet the accommodation needs at Dysart national school. This initiative operates on a devolved basis and allows boards of management to address the accommodation and building priorities with a guaranteed amount of funding and gives the boards control over the pace at which building works proceed. I have arranged for a copy of the terms and conditions of the initiative to be forwarded to the Deputy.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ceisteanna (13, 14)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

142 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position regarding his request to the British authorities to allow Irish experts to inspect the Sellafield nuclear plant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2886/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

197 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the concern expressed by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland that it has become more difficult to obtain information on Sellafield from the British authorities since 11 September 2001; if he has raised those concerns with the British Government; the response received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2888/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (14 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 142 and 197 together.

Access to Sellafield by Irish experts has been sought by the Irish Government on an ongoing basis and in February 2000 staff of the RPII received permission for a formal visit to the site. Based on its examination of the safety documentation, in December 2000 the RPII produced a report on the storage of liquid high-level radioactive waste at Sellafield. That set out a number of conclusions and recommendations for BNFL and its regulators. The report is freely available from the RPII.

I understand that the concerns expressed by the RPII relate to the difficulty posed in accessing certain information from the UK authorities regarding Sellafield in the security climate after the attacks of 11 September 2001. A review of security, including access to information, was undertaken by the UK authorities in the aftermath of 11 September regarding sensitive nuclear sites, including Sellafield. That review was welcomed by the Government and considered necessary, given the threat posed by a malicious attack on or accident at Sellafield. It is neither the intention nor in the interests of the Government or its citizens to compromise in any way security arrangements at Sellafield.

However, the current UK policy of restricting access to certain information and to the Sellafield site for RPII on security or other grounds should be balanced against the increased need for assurance after the attacks of 11 September 2001. I firmly believe that the genuine interests and concerns of the Government on behalf of the Irish people must be addressed and a mutually acceptable balance achieved between the reasonable national security requirements of the UK and equally reasonable requirements of Ireland. I consider that the model of the previous visit by RPII to Sellafield in 2000 provides an appropriate basis on which further visits could be accommodated.

The views of the UK on the security issue were set out in a letter from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt MP, on 16 April 2003 in response to my letter of 28 March 2003. I placed the UK letter on the record of the House as part of the reply to Question No. 141 of 14 May 2003. The question of access for the RPII to Sellafield was raised by me at a meeting with the former UK Energy Minister, Brian Wilson, on 28 May 2003. It was also raised by me and by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, in meetings with several UK Ministers.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

It is also one of several issues that have been raised in the context of discussions with the UK following the provisional measures award of the UNCLOS Annex VII Tribunal of 24 June 2003. Those discussions are confidential to the tribunal and the parties pending outcomes to the process. However, under the terms of the order, there is an obligation on both parties to improve co-operation and co-ordination arrangements, and discussions are continuing on that basis.

Plutonium in children's teeth is double the normal level in the area around Sellafield, according to the British Minister for Health. There is a leaking roof on a storage tank in Sellafield and a strike took place among workers at the plant which put it at risk. Waste pipes from the facility have recently been washed up on the shore and more are missing. A new storage facility for additional nuclear waste at the plant forms an international nuclear dump. There is also the ongoing immediate threat to Ireland of the storage of highly active liquid waste. The classification of that waste, which we were regularly promised, has proceeded at a snail's pace. The sea and air are polluted daily for profit rather than out of need.

Given that we know all that, apart from a legal action taken to a tribunal with no competence in the matter, which ended with the Government being taken to the European Court of Justice by the Commission for so doing, meaning that it has effectively run into the sand, and an occasional press release from the Minister's spin doctors on the matter, we have no other information. Will the Minister tell the House what exactly he is doing to achieve the Government's much-trumpeted objective of closing down Sellafield? He has been two years in his present post, more or less, and we do not seem to have advanced, except for the promised legal action, which has run into the ground.

I do not accept that. There is, and has been, fairly strong consensus in this House. As a former Minister with some responsibility in the area, the Deputy knows the difficulties first hand. However, we have advanced matters quite far under two cases, OSPAR and UNCLOS — the Deputy referred only to one. The situation regarding the European Court of Justice and the Commission believing that it had primacy of jurisdiction in the case remains to be resolved. However, I reiterate that it is important in the view of everyone in the House that the RPII gains access to Sellafield. I and, I am sure, all parties in this House feel very strongly about that.

It would help enormously in confidence-building between our two countries if that happened. It must be possible for two countries which have repeatedly demonstrated their abilities in many other more difficult areas to reach some understanding on the issue. I explained the critical nature of the issue and the necessity that the UK deliver on it. The cases to which the Deputy referred are not yet completed. They represented a substantial step forward, which was fully supported by the Government. I thank the Attorney General for the enormous time which he gave to move forward the issue. Ultimately, the closure of Sellafield is a clear objective.

In the meantime, I would like to see the moratorium on the technetium 99 discharges finalised so that there are no discharges into the Irish Sea. I have made it clear publicly that I see no moral, economic, environmental or other justification for any discharges whatsoever into the Irish Sea since, once the discharges enter the environment, the damage is done for hundreds of years. The waste could and should be stored in underground facilities from which it could be retrieved so that when technology develops to the point where it can deal with such issues, at least we can do that.

Before I call Deputy Allen, I remind the House that supplementary questions and answers are subject to a one-minute time limit.

I will deal specifically with the question on the Order Paper. I asked a question on the lock-up policy of the British Government regarding our nuclear experts from the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland and suggested that, at prime ministerial level, Mr. Blair might give the Taoiseach details of the security systems in place in Sellafield to assure us that there is no risk in the event of a hijack attack on it. What approaches have been made to the British Government on a prime ministerial level regarding the details and assurances on the security of Sellafield? What has happened since our last series of questions in the Dáil? Has anything happened and are we content, as we were before the last general election, simply to flood the British Government with postcards? As far as I am concerned, that is all that has happened.

May I have specific information on what approaches have been made? When I visited the plant in July I was assured by British Nuclear Fuels Limited that if the approaches were made on a Prime Minister to Prime Minister basis, it was sure the details would be supplied. I trust the Taoiseach in that if he got the information, he would judge it accordingly.

The Deputy knows this is an issue in which the Taoiseach engages in a fulsome way and which is always on his agenda. I think he has confirmed to the House that he raised this matter with the British Prime Minister. I do not have the details but I am confident he has confirmed it to the House.

May we have the details?

Following the cases, serious discussions are going on as to how we implement and improve substantially the relationship between Ireland and the UK covering the full range of issues which the Deputy, Deputy Stagg, others and I have raised. However, these are not complete. I am anxious for them to be completed and when they are, I will give a full account to the House as to what the position shall be, but I am not in a position to do so now. I assure the Deputy that substantial discussions are taking place.

When the Minister took office, highly dangerous radioactive material was stored in rusty sheds in the Sellafield complex and that material is still stored in rusty sheds. When was the last time the Minister discussed the issue of Sellafield with his UK counterpart?

I did so just before Christmas, less than two months ago. I raised it in my pre-Presidency discussions with Minister Beckett. The Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, was with me and we went on to meet the Minister for Energy on the same occasion. We had lengthy meetings on various subjects and I raised this with them. As I said to Deputy Allen, negotiations and discussions are taking place and we are trying to get through some of the issues with the UK Government which, I think, understands the Government's position. It is important as we have a duty of care and a responsibility to the people on this issue. I am anxious we come to a formalised arrangement in regard to the exchange of information on, and access to, the Sellafield site.

Arising from what he said, will the Minister state the prospects of the British authorities agreeing to the Radiological Protection Institution of Ireland being allowed to effectively and meaningfully visit the facility at Sellafield? When does he expect that might happen?

As the Deputy knows, the RPII visited the site previously. When we talk about the site, one of the issues is that it is a vast site. The issue is perhaps more important than simply getting on to the site. I hope we can resolve this issue and see a further visit in the near future, but I am guarded in what I say for specific reasons, which the Deputy may appreciate, as I follow up on the cases. Discussions are taking place and I do not want to say anything that might, in any way, undermine them. I reconfirm that the British Government is in no doubt as to the position of the Government and with what it would be satisfied.

Is the Minister aware of the seriousness of this threat? Only last week in a court in Cumbria, British Nuclear Fuels Limited was fined £30,000 sterling when it was found guilty of and admitted to endangering the life of one of its divers. Is the Minister aware that the health and safety executive in Britain advised that court that the British Nuclear Fuels Limited systems were wholly inadequate? Given that British Nuclear Fuels cares so little about the lives of its workers, does the Minister expect it to have any greater concern for the lives of or the threat represented to Irish people as a result of its operations?

Is the Minister aware that today British Nuclear Fuels Limited has again been outed? The Department of Trade and Industry in Britain engaged a consultancy firm to carry out an audit on BNFL but there was a conflict of interest because it regularly does consultancy work for BNFL. Given that wanton level of disregard by BNFL, it would have no concern for the safety of the people.

I reiterate that the Government remains committed to and is deeply concerned about the activities at Sellafield, as it always has been. The Government will use every avenue open to it, legal and otherwise, to ensure it gets the message home to the British Government and, ultimately, to achieve its objective which many people in Ireland and elsewhere would like to see, that is, the closure of Sellafield.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

Schools Recognition.

Ceisteanna (198)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

323 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of granting permanent recognition to Donabate-Portrane Educate Together school; the criteria for granting permanent recognition to a school; if the occupation by the school of new buildings in February 2004 will have an effect on its recognition; if it will receive back payments as a result dated from September 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2919/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

An application from Donabate-Portrane Educate Together national school for permanent recognition is under consideration in the school planning section of my Department. The criteria for granting permanent recognition are published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. The occupation by the school of its new accommodation in February 2004 will be a factor taken into account in arriving at a decision on the granting of permanent recognition.

Under the terms of the rental refund scheme operated by my Department, the school is liable for rental contributions up to a maximum of €3,175 in any calendar year. Any rental paid by the school in excess of this amount will be refunded on production of original paid and signed receipts.

Schools Building Projects.

Ceisteanna (199, 200)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

324 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the length of time it takes his Department to process a minor works grant request; and if it has received requests from Donabate-Portrane Educate Together school; and the status of such requests. [2920/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

Donabate-Portrane Educate Together national school does not have permanent recognition from my Department, therefore, it is not eligible for capital grant aid for either small or large-scale works. However, my Department is aware that the school will require temporary accommodation in September 2004. When an application has been received in this regard, it will be processed as expeditiously as possible.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

325 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science the arrangements that have been made in respect of the provision of a second ABA unit in the Rathfarnham-Bohernabreena area; and the position regarding the provision of a replacement for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15 who has been on the waiting list for saplings for over a year. [2922/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

I am most anxious that all children, including children with autistic spectrum disorders receive education appropriate to their needs. I understand from my officials that the pupil in question is currently enrolled in a special class for autism in a mainstream school in north Dublin. This class has a pupil teacher ratio of 6:1 and has the support of two special needs assistants. I further understand that ten hours home tuition per week has been sanctioned for the pupil in question until the end of the current school year.

My Department is actively considering an application from Saplings, Kildare, for autistic provision in south County Dublin. My officials are liaising with my Department's inspectorate and the national educational psychological service, NEPS, in this regard. A response will issue to the applicants as quickly as possible.

I understand that the pupil referred to by the Deputy is on a waiting list for the Saplings facility. Applications for enrolment in the Saplings project are a matter for the management of the facility.

Special Educational Needs.

Ceisteanna (201)

James Breen

Ceist:

326 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Education and Science if, in the reorganisation that is currently taking place in education, a guarantee will be given that there will be no cutbacks in the area of special needs and resources teachers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2923/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

My Department is currently reviewing existing arrangements for the allocation of special educational supports to primary schools. In that context, my officials have initiated discussions on the matter with representative interests. At this stage, it would be premature to anticipate the outcome. I can confirm, however that the basic purpose of that review is to ensure that each school has the level of resources required to cater for its pupils with special educational needs.

Retirement Age.

Ceisteanna (202)

James Breen

Ceist:

327 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will meet a deputation from the INTO to discuss the retirement age contained in the budget; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2924/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

It was announced in the budget that the Government has decided that the minimum pension age should be increased to 65 years for most new entrants to the public service, including teachers, from 1 April 2004. In announcing the Government's decision on pension age and on the intended abolition of compulsory retirement age for most new entrant public servants from 1 April 2004, the Minister for Finance stated that the public service unions would be fully informed about the implementation of the reforms in advance of their introduction with effect from 1 April 2004. The process of informing the public service unions has commenced and a number of meetings have already taken place between the public service unions, including the INTO, and officials of the Department of Finance, my Department and other Departments.

Since the Government has taken its decision on the retirement age of new entrants and as a forum has been put in place, I do not see that any useful purpose would be served at this time by a meeting as suggested by the Deputy. I must emphasise that the minimum pension age for existing public servants is not in any way affected by the Government decision.

Special Educational Needs.

Ceisteanna (203)

James Breen

Ceist:

328 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason no one from the primary sector is involved in the 12 member committee reviewing special needs; if he will move to put someone from the said area on this committee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2925/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

As I previously stated, in appointing the new National Council for Special Education I put in place a group of people with a wide range of knowledge and experience in this area. In doing this I did not set out to create a council which was representative of any particular sectoral interests, as I feel that it is very important that the council should operate in a cohesive, non representative way.

State Examinations.

Ceisteanna (204)

John Dennehy

Ceist:

329 Mr. Dennehy asked the Minister for Education and Science his views on reports that the State Examinations Commission is finding difficulty in recruiting sufficient teachers to conduct the oral examinations within the specified period; if he will give consideration to bringing forward measures to make participation in the scheme more attractive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2926/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

On foot of a Government decision, I formally established the State Examinations Commission on 6 March 2003. The commission now has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations. The commission has taken additional measures to address the shortfall in examiners and I have been assured that, based on past experience, the number of applications now on hand will allow for the conduct of the oral examinations as originally planned.

Site Acquisitions.

Ceisteanna (205, 206)

John Cregan

Ceist:

330 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress on acquiring a site for a new national school (details supplied). [2927/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The property management section of the OPW, which acts on behalf of my Department in relation to site acquisitions generally, is currently exploring the possibility of acquiring a site for the school referred to by the Deputy. Due to the commercial sensitivities of site acquisitions, it is not proposed at this stage to identify specific sites to be acquired. However, this information will be placed on my Department's website when the relevant acquisitions have been completed.

John Cregan

Ceist:

331 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress on acquiring a site to allow progress on the amalgamation of two national schools (details supplied). [2928/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The property management section of the OPW, which acts on behalf of my Department in relation to site acquisitions generally, is currently involved in negotiations to purchase a site for the new school referred to by the Deputy. Due to the commercial sensitivities of site acquisitions, it is not proposed at this stage to identify specific sites to be acquired. However, this information will be placed on my Department's website when the relevant acquisitions have been completed.

Questions Nos. 332 to 334, inclusive, answered with Question No. 317.

Education Welfare Service.

Ceisteanna (207)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

335 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science if an educational welfare officer has been appointed for the schools in the general Mullingar area; if so, when such an appointment will be effected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2933/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The Education (Welfare) Act was fully commenced on 5 July 2002. Under the Act, the National Educational Welfare Board was established to ensure that every child attends school regularly or otherwise receives an education.

To discharge its responsibilities, the board is developing a nationwide service to provide welfare-focused services to children, families and schools. It has appointed a chief exectutive officer, directors of corporate services and educational welfare services and a management team of eight staff. To date, 53 educational welfare staff have been appointed. This includes 29 former school attendance officers who transferred to the board from the pre-existing service. The board has recently advertised a competition to fill a further 15 vacancies which will bring the total staff complement to 84.

At this stage of its development, the aim of the board is to provide a service to the most disadvantaged areas and most at-risk groups. Five regional teams have now been established with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and staff have been deployed since early December in areas of greatest disadvantage and in areas designated under the Government's RAPID programme. Some 13 towns with significant school going populations, 12 of which are designated under the Government's RAPID programme, also now have an educational welfare officer allocated to them. These towns are Dundalk, Drogheda, Navan, Athlone, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Bray, Clonmel, Tralee, Ennis, Sligo and Letterkenny. In addition, the board will follow up on urgent cases nationally where children are not currently receiving an education.

The board has also moved to provide a service to families who decide to have their children educated in places other than in recognised schools. A small number of people with the appropriate skills have been allocated to this work and assessments will commence shortly. My Department has recently issued guidelines to assist the board in meeting its responsibilities in this area. An information leaflet and an application form are being prepared for issue to families who are educating their children at home. Work is also proceeding on the establishment of the register for 16 and 17 year olds who leave school to enter employment.

Guidelines are being prepared for schools on the reporting of student absences and a protocol outlining the interaction between schools and educational welfare staff is being developed with the assistance of the school implementation group recently established by the board. Decisions relating to the assignment of educational welfare officers to specific areas is a matter for the board which is an independent statutory authority.

Staff Development.

Ceisteanna (208)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

336 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Education and Science the terms on which a person (details supplied) was facilitated to research a PhD thesis while in the full-time employment of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2945/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The information sought by the Deputy is not readily available in my Department. I have arranged for the information to be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Schools Refurbishment.

Ceisteanna (209)

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

337 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Education and Science if he has received the inspector's report following a visit in November 2003 to Lauragh national school, Killarney, County Kerry; the proposals the Department has to provide funding to make safe the road and playground; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2954/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The inspector's report referred to has been received and is being considered by my officials. The management authority of Lauragh national school has also applied for funding for roof repairs under the summer works scheme. Applications under this scheme are being processed in my Department and details of successful applicants under the scheme for 2004 will be published on my Department's website no later than 27 February 2004.

Question No. 338 answered with QuestionNo. 296.

Schools Building Projects.

Ceisteanna (210)

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

339 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that An Bord Pleanála has granted planning permission to Dún Laoghaire VEC for a new senior college building at Blackrock Town Hall, County Dublin; if following the grant of planning permission he will now grant the necessary approvals to allow this project to proceed to the next stage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3011/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

My Department is aware of the recent decision of An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission for the project in question subject to certain conditions. This project is at an early stage of architectural planning. It has been assigned a band 2 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Special Educational Needs.

Ceisteanna (211, 212)

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

340 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will sanction funding for the provision of a Saplings school in the Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3013/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

I am most anxious that all children, including children with autistic spectrum disorders, receive education appropriate to their needs.

There are seven facilities in the State operating on a pilot-project basis which use alternative educational methods for teaching children on the autistic spectrum. Three of the seven are CABAS facilities which use the teaching method approach involving a comprehensive application of behaviour analysis.

A decision regarding the retention of these establishments will be made in light of an evaluation of provision for children with an autistic spectrum disorder carried out by my Department's inspectorate. It is envisaged that the outcome of the evaluation will be determined and a decision taken on the future of the facilities during the course of the current school year.

My Department is actively considering an application from Saplings, Kildare, for autistic provision in south County Dublin. My officials are liaising with the inspectorate and the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, in this regard. A response will issue to the applicants as quickly as possible.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

341 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science the action he has taken to provide services and support for persons (details supplied) in County Kilkenny who are autistic; the assessments which have been made and the action which is planned; if the parents of these persons have been met by his Department or anyone representing his Department. [3054/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

I am aware of the case referred to by the Deputy. My Department is currently providing funding towards home tuition for the children in question. My officials are liaising with the appropriate professionals regarding the long-term educational needs of the children and further contact will be made with the parents in this regard. To my knowledge, the parents have not met Department officials.

Departmental Offices.

Ceisteanna (213)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

342 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Education and Science his policy in respect of provision of local, nutritious food in the canteens and restaurants in the Department; the percentage of the purchased provisions which are produced locally; the percentage which is imported; the percentage of the food on sale which is fast food; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3067/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The Department of Education and Science has restaurant facilities in Athlone, Dublin and Tullamore. It is the policy of management of the restaurants to provide fresh, nutritious, locally produced food as far as possible, taking account of availability and quality of the required products at a given time. In general fast food is not provided.

The following table shows the approximate percentages in each location.

Location

Purchased produceProduced locally

Purchased produce Imported

Fast Food

%

%

%

Athlone

80

20

3

Dublin

80

20

2

Tullamore

75

25

8

Special Educational Needs.

Ceisteanna (214)

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

343 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Education and Science when a person (details supplied) in County Louth will have their application processed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3076/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

My Department allocates resource teaching support and special needs assistants support to second level schools and vocational educational committees to cater for students with special educational needs. Applications for such support are made to my Department by the relevant school authorities. Each application is considered on the basis of the assessed needs of the pupil or pupils involved and the nature and level of support provided is determined on the advice of the psychological service.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the school in question has recently been allocated an additional resource teacher support to address the needs of the student in question and a number of other students with special educational needs attending the school.

Teaching Qualifications.

Ceisteanna (215)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

344 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science, further to Questions Nos. 377 and 378 of 27 January 2004, if he is planning to publish the report of the working group on the Scrúdú le hAghaidh Cailíochta sa Ghaeilge before the end of this Dáil session or if he will give more exact detail as to when this report will be published. [3079/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The Deputy will be aware that it is my intention to publish the report of the working group on the Scrúdú le hAghaidh Cailíochta sa Ghaeilge as soon as possible. I am not in a position to provide a specific publication date at this stage.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ceisteanna (216)

Joe Costello

Ceist:

345 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Education and Science if it is proposed to decentralise the Higher Education and Training Awards Council to Offaly; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that three quarters of the staff are opposed to the proposal; the plans he and the Government have to facilitate those public servants who do not wish to move; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3080/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The decentralisation policy decided by the Government and announced by the Minister for Finance on budget day in 2003 provides for the transfer of some 10,300 civil servants to various locations outside of Dublin. Included in this policy is the transfer of the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, HETAC, and its staff to Edenderry, County Offaly.

It is not open to me to make an exception to this stated Government policy nor do I see any reason why this should be done. Decentralisation is voluntary and those members of HETAC staff who do not wish to transfer to the organisation's new location will not be compelled to do so. It has also been made clear that this policy will be implemented in an orderly fashion with full consultation with staff interests.

Special Educational Needs.

Ceisteanna (217)

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

346 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason a psychologist's report was requested for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3143/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

A copy of a psychological assessment was requested for the pupil in question to facilitate consideration of the application for special educational needs supports submitted by the school referred to by the Deputy. The dedicated team of inspectors and psychologists that carried out the examination found that the pupil does not meet the criteria for special needs assistant support under circular 07/02 and this was communicated verbally to the school principal recently. My officials will be in further contact with the school shortly concerning the matter of resource teaching provision.

Departmental Travel.

Ceisteanna (218)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

347 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Science the amount his Department paid out in 2003 for car mileage expenses; and the separate amount paid to cover rail or bus ticket expenses. [3177/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The computer system used by my Department for payment of travel and subsistence for the first six months of 2003 does not allow for a breakdown between mileage and public transport expenses. However, due to the introduction of a new financial management system in my Department in July 2003, I can provide the breakdown requested by the Deputy for the period from July 2003 to December 2003.

The travel expenses paid for the period from July to December 2003 can be broken down as follows:

July to December 2003

Mileage

503,909.80

Train/Bus

40,706.99

Taxis

4,019.59

A substantial amount of travel expenses paid by my Department refers to the inspectorate.

Schools Refurbishment.

Ceisteanna (219)

David Stanton

Ceist:

348 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science the amount he has made available to St. Aloysius second level school in Carrigtwohill to enable the refurbishment of science laboratories in the school; if the work can proceed immediately; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3200/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The management authority of St. Aloysius, Carrigtwohill has applied for funding for refurbishment of science laboratories at the school under the summer works scheme. Applications under this scheme are being processed in my Department and details of successful applicants under the scheme for 2004 will be published on my Department's website no later than 27 February 2004.

Fisheries Protection.

Ceisteanna (220)

Jackie Healy-Rae

Ceist:

349 Mr. Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason salmon quotas have been further cut in areas that are solely dependent on fishing when the figures show that the return of salmon on the spawning grounds are perfectly adequate to sustain the stocking level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2704/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

I rely upon the advice of the National Salmon Commission and the regional fisheries boards managers in determining the terms of the wild salmon and sea-trout tagging scheme which,inter alia, sets out district quotas for the commercial catch. The chairman advises me that the commission has not yet completed its review of the scheme's operation in 2003 nor finalised its recommendations, including the proposed commercial catch quotas, for the operation of the scheme in 2004.

When presenting its advice on the scheme for 2003, the National Salmon Commission recommended that a three year strategy should be put in place to ensure, through progressive reductions, that the conservation limits specified by its standing scientific committee should be reached by 2005. In implementing the scheme in 2003 and to move towards attainment of conservation limits in all districts, the fisheries boards' managers advised that a pragmatic approach should be followed whereby the districts requiring the greatest reduction in current catch to meet conservation limits should be targeted with the greatest cuts in quota. It was also considered that as the current catch model is largely based on the mixed stock drift net fishery, some reduction should occur in catch level in all districts. This rationale was based on the knowledge that the districts are reporting entities rather than discrete catchments and a reduction in the mixed stock fishery in all districts will further benefit attainment of conservation limits in districts currently below the required limit.

I assure the Deputy that I will be guided by the National Salmon Commission's recommendations for the 2004 season. I will publish any revisions to the regulations in accordance with the statutory requirements as soon as possible.

Statutory Instruments.

Ceisteanna (221)

John Bruton

Ceist:

350 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will undertake a study of all orders made by him that could now be considered to be potentially in breach of Article 25 of the Constitution in view of the judgement of the High Court that the Aliens Order was unconstitutional due to the fact that it constituted an attempt to determine by secondary legislation a matter that ought to have been determined by the Oireachtas itself; if he intends to undertake the introduction of any legislation to remove the constitutional infirmity of any existing orders in view of this judgement; and if not, the reason therefor. [2735/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

My Department is reviewing its statutory instruments for compliance with the requirements of Bunreacht na hÉireann in light of the recent High Court judgment concerning the Immigration Act 1999.

Postal Services.

Ceisteanna (222)

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

351 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he intends to honour the transformation agreement that provides for the establishment of an employee share ownership plan for postal workers which was signed in July 2000 by the Government, the company and unions; if the staff have delivered their side of the agreement and the Government have been informed of this by the board of An Post in May 2003; when the legislation required to give effect to the ESOP will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2760/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

The An Post ESOP, which was signed in 2000, provided for the transfer of up to 14.9% of the company to employees on a phased basis in return for specified costs savings and profits. Of the transfer, 5% was for transformation and 9.9% was a profit share. The purpose of the ESOP was to facilitate the transformation of An Post into a viable and profitable postal operator in order to successfully deal with challenges arising from liberalisation and electronic substitution. In return for 5% of the company, cost savings amounting to €34 million were to be achieved between 2000 and 2003. However, instead of achieving savings the opposite has happened. Staff costs rose by €24 million between 1999 and 2000, which represents a 6% increase, by €52 million between 2000 and 2001, a 13% increase, and by €40 million between 2001 and 2002, an increase of 9%.

The table below sets out profits envisaged under the ESOP and the actual financial outturn for the company:

ESOP

Annual Report

€m

€m

2000

7.6

9.8

2001

8.9

(6.7)

2002

20.3

(17.8)

2003

34.3

(29.5) forecast

In May, 2003 the An Post board advised that cost savings for 2000 set out in the ESOP amounting to €7 million had been achieved. However, according to documentation supplied by An Post at that time, achievement of savings was substantially below target levels in the ESOP agreement, was delayed, and took place between 2001 and 2003 instead of in 2000. In September 2003, An Post advised, following a review of company finances, that forecast profit of €1 million had turned into a loss of €29.5 million. Having regard to the substantial losses notified by An Post for 2003, the board has been asked to review the cost savings verification process and respond to the Department. We are still waiting for a response from the board of An Post on the verification of the cost savings issue.

The Government remains committed to an ESOP in An Post if it can be demonstrated that real transformation has occurred and that the cost savings envisaged in the ESOP have been achieved.

EU Presidency.

Ceisteanna (223)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

352 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the plans his Department has to promote Ireland's EU Presidency with the Irish public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2801/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

I am responsible for a wide range of EU Presidency business across the sectoral policy areas of telecommunications, energy, broadcasting, fisheries, maritime transport and maritime safety. I also hold commensurate chairing responsibilities for the agriculture and fisheries, transport, energy and telecommunications and education, youth and culture council formations. I am working to deliver on policy priorities at EU level within the Government's overall strategic approach. I welcome and will actively encourage through media briefings and interviews widespread interest across the business community, the sectors and the public generally in Ireland's Presidency which arises at a critical time for the EU itself.

My Department is promoting awareness of the Presidency through our own website,www.dcmnr.gov.ie, as well as the central Presidency website, www.eu2004.ie, in addition to our regular media briefing and releases. We are also holding the following conferences in Ireland during the Presidency:

Date

Details

1-3 March

Ministerial Conference on Broadcasting — Dublin and Drogheda

10, 11 March

Ministerial Conference on Sustainable Fisheries — Dundalk

25, 26 March

Directors General of Maritime Safety Conference — Wexford.

6, 7 April

Directors General of Fisheries Conference — Dublin Directors General of Fisheries Informal

19, 20 April

EuroMed ICT Conference — Dublin (t.b.c)

21-23 April

Ministerial Conference on Broadband — Dundalk

22, 23 April

Directors General of Energy Conference — Drogheda

26 April

International Conference for the Exploration of the Seas (Dublin)

11-14 May

EurOcean Conference — Galway

Harbours and Piers.

Ceisteanna (224)

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

353 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position in relation to the proposed harbour development at Greencastle, County Donegal; the reasons for the delay in the progression of this badly needed facility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2827/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

Greencastle Harbour is owned by Donegal County Council and responsibility for its repair and maintenance rests with the local authority in the first instance. In 2003, my Department provided funding of €149,431.23 towards the completion of the project to design stage. The next step is to carry out a cost-benefit analysis and it is hoped to have this undertaken in the current year subject to funds being available. Planning permission is also required before any development commences. The question of providing funding to progress the development in the period 2005 to 2006 will depend on the amount of Exchequer funding available for works at fishery harbours generally and overall national priorities.

Postal Services.

Ceisteanna (225)

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

354 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason he has reneged on a commitment to postal employees whereby a transformation agreement was signed off in July 2000 by the Government, the company and the unions to make provisions for postal workers to acquire a 14.9% share in An Post; if he will agree to meet with the unions to discuss this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2953/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

The An Post ESOP, which was signed in 2000, provided for the transfer of up to 14.9% of the company to employees on a phased basis in return for specified costs savings and profits. Of the transfer, 5% was for transformation and 9.9% was a profit share. The purpose of the ESOP was to facilitate the transformation of An Post into a viable and profitable postal operator in order to successfully deal with challenges arising from liberalisation and electronic substitution. In return for 5% of the company, cost savings amounting to €34 million were to be achieved between 2000 and 2003. However, instead of achieving savings the opposite has happened. Staff costs rose by €24 million between 1999 and 2000, which represents a 6% increase, by €52 million between 2000 and 2001, a 13% increase, and by €40 million between 2001 and 2002, an increase of 9%.

The table below sets out profits envisaged under the ESOP and the actual financial outturn for the company:

ESOP

Annual Report

€m

€m

2000

7.6

9.8

2001

8.9

(6.7)

2002

20.3

(17.8)

2003

34.3

(29.5) forecast

In May, 2003 the An Post board advised that cost savings for 2000 set out in the ESOP amounting to €7 million had been achieved. However, according to documentation supplied by An Post at that time, achievement of savings was substantially below target levels in the ESOP agreement, was delayed, and took place between 2001 and 2003 instead of in 2000. In September 2003, An Post advised, following a review of company finances, that forecast profit of €1 million had turned into a loss of €29.5 million. Having regard to the substantial losses notified by An Post for 2003, the board has been asked to review the cost savings verification process and respond to the Department. We are still waiting for a response from the board of An Post on the verification of the cost savings issue.

I read in last Wednesday'sIrish Examiner that I had refused to meet with the unions to discuss the ESOP. This is not true. The unions did not request the meeting with me to discuss this issue. If any union wishes to meet me to discuss issues surrounding the ESOP, they may contact my office; my door is always open.

Ministerial Travel.

Ceisteanna (226)

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

355 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the purpose of the official visit to Chile by the former Minister, Deputy Fahey, during his term of office. [2983/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

I wish to advise the Deputy that the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Fahey, visited Chile in 2001 in his official capacity as Minister with responsibility for marine and natural resources to gain a deeper understanding of the Chilean salmon industry, in particular, those factors which have enabled very significant growth in their industry in recent years. The Minister of State met his counterpart to convey the considerable concerns of the Irish industry about the impact of the significant and increasing quantities of Chilean salmon production on the global market.

Prospecting Licences.

Ceisteanna (227)

John McGuinness

Ceist:

356 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will provide funding for a site investigation at Dunbell, Maddoxtown, County Kilkenny on lands owned by the Department to determine the extent of the dolamite reserve and to help form a view as to whether the adjoining lands have the same levels of dolamite; if his attention has been drawn to the concerns of the local community in this area regarding the route of the new road and the role of his Department in the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3014/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

The question of funding for site investigations to assess mineral deposits was dealt with in the reply to Question No. 116, delivered last Thursday, 29 January. The land in question is not owned by the Department. Officials of the Department met representatives of the local community on 29 January. The community's concerns will be fully considered insofar as they relate to development of existing and potential mineral deposits in the area. The Department will continue to liaise with the local community on the relevant issues.

Telecommunications Services.

Ceisteanna (228)

Paddy McHugh

Ceist:

357 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if a report has been prepared on the WLAN trials being carried out in Tuam, County Galway; if he has received the report and the subsequent actions required or being undertaken to allow for the provision of broadband in Tuam, County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3015/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

ESB telecommunications is currently undertaking a trial of powerline carrier technology in Tuam, County Galway. Powerline carrier technology harnesses existing ESB infrastructure to provide broadband Internet access. A home can receive high-speed Internet connections by simply plugging a computer into an electricity outlet. Broadband powerline carrier systems have the potential to provide an alternative broadband delivery infrastructure to local fixed telephony networks. While the powerline carrier technology is the main focus of the trial, the project is also adding a wireless local area network, WLAN, system to provide a link between the powerline system within the town and the Internet. It is expected that the trial will be completed by the end of April 2004. Subsequently, a report will be provided on the feasibility of this technology in providing broadband services in Ireland.

Departmental Offices.

Ceisteanna (229)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

358 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his policy in respect of provision of local, nutritious food in the canteens and restaurants in the Department; the percentage of the purchased provisions which are produced locally; the percentage which is imported; the percentage of the food on sale which is fast food; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3068/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

An independent catering company is contracted to provide the food served in the canteens in my Department. The Department's partnership canteen committee, which represents staff, monitors the service provided including the price, range and quality of the food. So called "fast food" is not available in the canteens. It is the collective aim of senior management and staff in the Department to ensure that the contractor maintains and consistently enhances the quality and variety of food available in the interests of the health and well being of all staff.

Departmental Travel.

Ceisteanna (230)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

359 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the amount his Department paid out in 2003 for car mileage expenses; and the separate amount paid to cover rail or bus ticket expenses. [3178/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

The information requested is not available as separate figures are not accessible in respect of expenses for car mileage and expenses for rail and bus transport. The total paid out by the Department in 2003 in respect of non-recoverable travel expenses within Ireland was €916,143.

Statutory Instruments.

Ceisteanna (231)

John Bruton

Ceist:

360 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will undertake a study of all orders made by him that could now be considered to be potentially in breach of Article 25 of the Constitution in view of the judgement of the High Court that the Aliens Order was unconstitutional due to the fact that it constituted an attempt to determine by secondary legislation a matter that ought to have been determined by the Oireachtas itself; if he intends to undertake the introduction of any legislation to remove the constitutional infirmity of any existing orders in view of this judgement; and if not, the reason therefor. [2736/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

My Department is reviewing its statutory instruments for compliance with the requirements of Bunreacht na hÉireann in light of the recent High Court judgement concerning the Immigration Act 1999.

Swimming Pool Projects.

Ceisteanna (232)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

361 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has had contacts with South Dublin County Council regarding plans for a swimming pool project in west Tallaght; if his attention has been drawn to the anxiety of the local community that real progress be made on this most important project for the area; the assistance which is being provided in the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2758/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

South Dublin County Council has applied for grant aid for a proposed new swimming pool in Jobstown, west Tallaght. My Department has had contact with officials from the council about this application and another by the same council in respect of the refurbishment of the swimming pool at Clondalkin. The contract documents for both of these projects are under consideration in my Department.

Arts Funding.

Ceisteanna (233)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

362 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the details of his continued efforts to provide increased funding for the arts; if his attention has been drawn to the importance of his endeavours which is appreciated by many; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2786/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I am acutely aware of the importance of achieving the best possible outcome for the funding of the arts. I am happy that the €52.5 million provided in 2004 for the Arts Council represents an increase of some 19% on the 2003 figure. This was an extremely positive outcome given the general level of demand for Exchequer funding.

EU Presidency.

Ceisteanna (234)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

363 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the plans his Department has to promote Ireland's EU Presidency with the Irish public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2787/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

Apart from providing input into the centralised publicity and information dissemination arrangements for the EU Presidency, such as the Presidency website, my Department is publicising its Presidency programme though regular press releases and up-dates on the events we are organising. We are also in the process of establishing a dedicated area on the Department's website for Presidency-related activities.

Specific public relations arrangements are also in place to publicise the events being supported by the Presidency cultural programme, including the 1 May enlargement celebrations. These will include media coverage of events happening locally, nationally and internationally with discussions already in place with RTE, including Lyric FM, overseas television and radio stations and main national and international print media to confirm such coverage.

The Deputy will be aware of the extensive media publicity arising from the Europe-wide launch of the European year of education through Sport 2004 which took place in Dublin on 29 and 30 January 2004 as part of Ireland's EU Presidency programme. This included a special television programme to highlight the year which was broadcast on RTE television on 1 February 2004. I will continue to publicise activities and events as they arise during the course of the Presidency.

Departmental Offices.

Ceisteanna (235)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

364 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his policy in respect of provision of local, nutritious food in the canteens and restaurants in the Department; the percentage of the purchased provisions which are produced locally; the percentage which is imported; the percentage of the food on sale which is fast food; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3069/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

The provision of the canteen facilities at my Department's headquarters in Kildare Street is the responsibility of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. There is no canteen facility at my Department's offices in Frederick Buildings.

The restaurant and canteen facilities at the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street, Collins Barracks, and Turlough Park House, Castlebar, County Mayo, are provided under licence by private caterers. There are no such facilities at the National Archives or the National Library of Ireland.

Departmental Travel.

Ceisteanna (236)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

365 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the amount his Department paid out in 2003 for car mileage expenses; and the separate amount paid to cover rail or bus ticket expenses. [3179/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

The cost of mileage expenses incurred during 2003 by officials of my Department including staff of the National Museum of Ireland, the National Library of Ireland and the National Archives amounted to €121,851.30, while an amount of €6,630.65 was paid out in respect of bus and rail tickets for my Department including the National Museum of Ireland, the National Library of Ireland and the National Archives over the same period.

Hospital Services.

Ceisteanna (237)

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

366 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow who has received a bill for medical expenses from St. Vincent's Hospital which they thought would be covered by their contributions except for the €40 bed fee per day; when this will be paid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2706/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

Entitlement to health services in Ireland is primarily based on residency and means rather than income. Any person, regardless of nationality, who is accepted by the health boards as being ordinarily resident in Ireland is entitled to either full eligibility, category 1 — medical card holders, or limited eligibility, category 2, for health services. Health boards normally regard a person as "ordinarily resident" in Ireland if he-she satisfies the health board that it is his-her intention to remain in Ireland for a minimum period of one year.

Persons in category 1 are medical card holders and they are entitled to a full range of services including general practitioner services, prescribed drugs and medicines, all in-patient public hospital services in public wards including consultants services, all out-patient public hospital services including consultants services, dental, ophthalmic and aural services and appliances and a maternity and infant care service.

Persons in category 2, non-medical card holders, are entitled, subject to certain charges, to all in-patient public hospital services in public wards including consultants services and out-patient public hospital services including consultants services. The current public hospital statutory in-patient charge is €45 per night, up to a maximum of €450 in any 12 consecutive months. Attendance at accident and emergency departments is subject to a charge of €45 where the patient does not have a referral note from his-her doctor. This charge applies only to the first visit in any episode of care. A maternity and infant care service is provided during pregnancy and up to six weeks after birth.

Under the Health Act 1970, the determination of eligibility for health services is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board and neither I nor my Department has a function in the matter. Health boards have discretion, in cases of exceptional need, to provide assistance to individuals where undue hardship would otherwise be caused. Alternatively, one can opt to be the private patient of both the consultant and the hospital. Any patient, whether a medical card holder or not, who opts for treatment in a private hospital or as a private patient in a public hospital is liable for the costs relating to such treatment.

I have asked the chief executive officer of the Eastern Regional Health Authority to examine the matter and reply directly to the Deputy.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Ceisteanna (238)

Pat Carey

Ceist:

367 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will establish from the Northern Area Health Board when a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11 will be assessed for appropriate educational support; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3012/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

Responsibility for the provision of health services to persons with an intellectual disability and those with autism in the Dublin area is a matter, in the first instance, for the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him.

Long-Term Illness Scheme.

Ceisteanna (239)

Jack Wall

Ceist:

368 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children if persons who have suffered from strokes are included in the long-term illness card scheme; if not, if he has plans to include such persons in the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2674/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

Under the Health Act 1970, a health board may make arrangements for the supply without charge of drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances to people suffering from any of the following conditions, who are not already medical card holders, for the treatment of that condition under the long-term illness, LTI, scheme: mental handicap; mental illness, for persons under 16 years only; phenylketonuria; cystic fibrosis; spina bifida; hydrocephalus; diabetes mellitus; diabetes insipidus; haemophilia; cerebral palsy; epilepsy; multiple sclerosis; muscular dystrophies; parkinsonism; thalidomide; and acute leukaemia. Strokes are not included in the list of conditions covered by the LTI.

There is a range of other schemes that provide assistance towards the cost of approved drugs and medicines for people with significant ongoing medical expenses. People who cannot, without undue hardship, arrange for the provision of medical services for themselves and their dependants may be entitled to a medical card. Eligibility for a medical card is solely a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board. In determining eligibility, the CEO has regard to the applicant's financial circumstances. Health boards use income guidelines to assist in determining eligibility. However, where a person's income exceeds the guidelines, a medical card may be awarded if the CEO considers that the person's medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. Medical cards may also be issued to individual family members on this basis. Non-medical card holders, and people with conditions not covered under the LTI, can use the drugs payment scheme. Under this scheme, no individual or family unit pays more than €78 per calendar month towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines.

Hospital Services.

Ceisteanna (240, 241, 242, 243, 244, 245, 246)

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

369 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children if an investigation was carried out into the circumstances whereby a person (details supplied) in Dublin 14 was moved between the Eye and Ear Hospital, St. James's Hospital, Blanchardstown Hospital and back to St. James's Hospital between the dates of 14 June and 20 June 2002. [2675/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

Responsibility for the provision of hospital services to residents of Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to her directly.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

370 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the cost to date, both capital and current, of the provision of the lung transplant unit at the Mater Hospital. [2676/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

371 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the cost in 2003 of sending lung transplant patients to Newcastle for transplant operations. [2677/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

372 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the details of staff recruited for the operation of the lung transplant unit at the Mater Hospital; and the annual cost of such staff. [2678/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

373 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the total annual operating costs of the lung transplant unit at the Mater Hospital. [2679/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

374 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the total cost for the past ten years of sending lung transplant patients to Newcastle. [2680/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

I propose to take questions Nos. 370 to 374, inclusive, together.

The Eastern Regional Health Authority is charged with responsibility for commissioning health and personal social services on behalf of the population of the region, and also on behalf of those outside the region who are referred for specialist treatment. My Department has therefore requested the authority to reply to the Deputy on the issues raised.

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

375 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the attention deficit disorder programme at University College Hospital, Galway, which was set up as a pilot scheme three years ago; if this programme is being downgraded or discontinued or will be made a permanent programme at UCHG; and if the necessary funds will be made available to the health board to enable it to continue this as a permanent programme. [2681/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Responsibility for the provision of the health services in Galway rests with the Western Health Board. My Department has therefore asked the chief executive officer to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply to him directly.

Community Care.

Ceisteanna (247)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

376 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will investigate the delays in providing occupational therapy in a community care area (details supplied) in Dublin west; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this authority have not recently advertised to fill job vacancies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2712/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

The provision of health related services, including occupational therapy, for people with physical and-or sensory disabilities is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards in the first instance. Accordingly, the Deputy's question has been referred to the chief executive officer of the Eastern Regional Health Authority with a request that he examine the matter and reply directly to the Deputy, as a matter of urgency.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Ceisteanna (248)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

377 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Health and Children his views on the extended delays persons have faced in getting an occupational therapist assessment (details supplied). [2713/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in the Dublin 10 area is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the South Western Area Health Board acting under the aegis of the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the chief executive of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply direct to her as a matter of urgency.

Statutory Instruments.

Ceisteanna (249)

John Bruton

Ceist:

378 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will undertake a study of all orders made by him that could now be considered to be potentially in breach of Article 25 of the Constitution in view of the judgement of the High Court that the Aliens Order was unconstitutional due to the fact that it constituted an attempt to determine by secondary legislation a matter that ought to have been determined by the Oireachtas itself; if he intends to undertake the introduction of any legislation to remove the constitutional infirmity of any existing orders in view of this judgement; and if not, the reason therefor. [2737/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

My Department is reviewing its statutory instruments for compliance with the requirements of Bunreacht na hÉireann in the light of the recent High Court judgment concerning the Immigration Act 1999.

Health Board Services.

Ceisteanna (250)

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

379 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will meet the concerns of a residents' committee (details supplied) in the SWAHB; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2762/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in the Dublin area is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the South Western Area Health Board acting under the aegis of the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply direct to him as a matter of urgency.

Disabled Drivers.

Ceisteanna (251)

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

380 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will provide resources to ensure that a person (details supplied) in Dublin 20 can be assessed and provided with a disabled person's car seat; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2763/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

The medical assessment for the purpose of the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme is carried out by the senior area medical officer in the relevant health board. This function is to assist the Department of Finance who have statutory responsibility for the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme.

Accordingly, my Department has asked the chief executive officer of the South Eastern Health Board to investigate this matter and reply directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Hospital Services.

Ceisteanna (252)

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

381 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will expedite the transfer of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7 from the Mater Hospital to the orthopaedic hospital in Clontarf in order to facilitate their recovery. [2764/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

Responsibility for the provision of health services to persons living in counties Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Ceisteanna (253)

Dan Neville

Ceist:

382 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children , further to Question No. 390 of 11 November 2003, his views on the transfer of 24 persons with intellectual disability from St. Joseph's Hospital, Limerick, to accommodation appropriate to their needs. [2771/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

I understand from the Mid-Western Health Board that, at present, there are 17 persons with an intellectual disability accommodated in St Joseph's Hospital, Limerick. Assessments are to be carried out on ten persons with an intellectual disability for whom placements in services for persons with an intellectual disability are considered to be the most appropriate care setting. It is envisaged that the most appropriate placements for the remaining seven persons are in the community based mental health services.

Smoking Ban.

Ceisteanna (254)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

383 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Health and Children the position with regard to the smoking ban. [2773/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

I will make a decision on the new date for commencement of the smoke-free workplaces regulations in the near future. I believe that the vast majority of employers, employees and the public will comply with the new measure. The primary purpose of making workplaces smoke-free is to protect people from exposure to toxic environmental tobacco smoke.

EU Presidency.

Ceisteanna (255)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

384 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans his Department has to promote Ireland's EU Presidency with the Irish public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2802/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

At the end of December a programme of Presidency events in the area of public health was produced. This was circulated to a range of agencies and offices, including the health boards. I conducted media briefings during January to set out the objectives of our Presidency, the events we are holding and what developments citizens can expect to see in the public health area during our term in the Presidency.

The full programme of events, together with background information on each one as well information on the European Health legislative programme, can be viewed on the Department of Health and Children websitewww.doh.ie and on the Irish Presidency website www.eu2004.ie. There are also a number of other web pages dedicated to individual events associated with the calendar of events in the health area, the details of which are contained in the programme calendar.

The programme contains numerous separate events, which have a different focus on aspects of EU legislation and action in the field of public health. These will range from food safety, heart health, tobacco control, to the health applications of information and communications technology — e-health. The planning for such events specifically provides for the facilitation of significant media coverage with a view to maximising public awareness and knowledge of the issues and developments involved.

General Practitioner Co-operatives.

Ceisteanna (256)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

385 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children if the contract negotiated with general practitioners in respect of medical card holders includes a commitment to make arrangements for an out of hour service to patients which would avoid unnecessary resort by patients to accident and emergency services; if his Department has undertaken a study of the relationship between availability of night time calls from general practitioners and dependence on accident and emergency services; and if he has satisfied himself that reasonable incentives are in place to encourage general practitioners to provide out of hour services. [2812/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

General practitioners who choose to hold GMS contracts with health boards undertake to provide services for their medical card patients for a total of 40 hours per week on five or more days in agreement with the local health board. Doctors are obliged also "to make suitable arrangements to enable contact to be made with him or his locum or deputy outside of normal hours for urgent cases". Services provided to GMS patients out of hours attract extra consultation fees for the doctors involved.

Full out-of-hours services are provided in some health board areas by general practitioner led co-operatives and funding totalling €46.5 million was allocated to health boards between 2000 and 2003 for the development and expansion of these co-operatives. While there has been no formal study of the relationship between availability of night time calls from general practitioners and dependence on accident and emergency services undertaken by my Department, 30% of the users of the co-op service in one health board area indicated that they would have used the accident and emergency department if the co-op had not been an option. It is worth noting that a large percentage of the calls handled by the co-ops are handled by telephone advice either from the nurse or doctor or by centre visits and that only a very small percentage require domiciliary visits by the doctors.

The independent evaluation reports of the service in the North Eastern and South Eastern Health Boards indicated that co-operatives represent an enhancement of service to the patient and that the level of satisfaction among participating general practitioners was also high. Access to the service is by using a lo-call number. There is equal access for both medical card and private patient and the information on any treatment provided is sent electronically to the patient's doctor on the following day. This helps to ensure a continuity of care for the patient.

The co-operative enables the participating GPs to have formal arrangements in place to cope with their contracted out of hours obligations. It helps them achieve a balance between work and life, and at the same time provides them with the back up transport and other services such as suitably equipped cars, drivers and communications.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Ceisteanna (257)

Michael Ring

Ceist:

386 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for a hip operation, considering that they have been waiting for eight months already for their surgery and they are in tremendous pain; and if this person will be operated on immediately under the national treatment purchase fund. [2813/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

The provision of services for persons resident in County Mayo is a matter for the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Ceisteanna (258)

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

387 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason health boards will not accept applications from residents of nursing homes for electric wheelchairs; if such residents can obtain assistance elsewhere for this facility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2910/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

As responsibility for the provision of health services is, in the first instance, a matter of the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards, my Department has asked the chief executive officers of the boards to examine this matter and to reply directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Ceisteanna (259)

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

388 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Health and Children when the refurbishment to New Haughton Hospital, New Ross, will commence, as promised by the Minister of State, Deputy Callely, during his visit to the hospital in 2003; if a specific allowance has been made by his Department for this work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2911/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

As the Deputy will be aware, responsibility for the provision of health services in New Ross rests with the South Eastern Health Board in the first instance. The board has advised that upgrading of the kitchen, the provision of lighting to the entrance to the hospital and associated works at New Haughton Hospital have been completed with funding provided by my Department under the national development plan.

In 2003 the board carried out work to resolve problems with dampness in the patient care areas, roof repairs and a coverway to the laundry area and the funding for these maintenance works was met from within the board's existing resources. A number of other works such as the rewiring of the hospital and improving the patient bathing facilities are being examined by the board with a view to progressing these works.

In the course of my recent visit the submission to my Department for approval to replace the lift and staircase and provide a new reception area was brought to my attention. My Department is examining the submission and will continue to work with the South Eastern Health Board in progressing this project in line with the board's priorities and funding resources available. Following my visit, I met a delegation from the hospital. I will continue to work closely with the board regarding the progressing of this project.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Ceisteanna (260)

Michael Ring

Ceist:

389 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for assessment for cataract removal operations on both of their eyes, particularly in view of the fact that they live alone in a rural area and are losing their sight; and if they can be seen under the national treatment purchase fund scheme. [2934/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

The provision of services for persons resident in County Mayo is a matter for the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health and Safety Regulations.

Ceisteanna (261)

John Dennehy

Ceist:

390 Mr. Dennehy asked the Minister for Health and Children the measures he hopes to introduce to improve the safety of health service personnel, in view of the worrying increase in the number of attacks on such persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2935/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

As the Deputy is aware, each employer in the health service owes a duty of care to all their employees, to provide a safe working environment, minimising the risk of assault. In this regard, health service employers are constantly reviewing the systems for the management and control of violence in the workplace. For example, systematic training for staff in control and restraint techniques, in addition to breakaway techniques, is now a feature of training for relevant health service staff.

Nursing hospital watch initiatives are now in place in hospitals around the country. Such initiatives have had a considerable effect on reducing the number of incidents, in accident and emergency departments in particular, while hospital management are continuing to monitor and seek improvements in the standard of staff and patient safety.

A special scheme exists for staff who are absent from work as a result of a serious physical assault by a patient or client incurred in the course of their duty. This scheme provides for full pay inclusive of premium earnings for a defined period. There is also a strong commitment towards staff rehabilitation in order to facilitate the staff member to return to work as soon as possible.

The Deputy may also wish to note that my Department has funded the committee on workplace violence in the North Eastern Health Board, which is representative of all stakeholders and services, to conduct a study into, and develop a plan for, the management of aggression and violence in the health care setting. This committee has recently conducted the first largescale methodologically rigorous study investigating aggression and violence in Irish health care, entitled the Survey of Violence Experienced by Staff — SOVES. Initial findings of the study indicate that the extent of the problem in Ireland is very similar to that which has been consistently reported internationally. The report of the findings of the SOVES study will be launched in the next few months.

In addition, the Health Service Employer's Agency is currently in the process of finalising guidelines on an occupational health safety and welfare service for the health service, in conjunction with the Health and Safety Authority. The production of these guidelines and the establishment of an implementation plan for them are specified actions in the action plan for people management, launched in October 2002, the implementation of which is being monitored by my Department on an ongoing basis.

Hospital Services.

Ceisteanna (262)

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

391 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children his views on the western neurosurgery campaign. [2936/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

My Department has met representatives of the western neurosurgery campaign and I am aware of their views on the development of neurosurgical services. I have asked Comhairle na nOspidéal to carry out a review of neurosurgical services and to prepare a repo